Special Report: Community Battles Prescription Pills
It's slowly creeping into the fabric of McDowell County.
"There is no picture or portrait of what this looks like - it touches everyone in the community," says Phillip Hardin, McDowell County Department of Social Services Director Phillip Hardin.
It's affecting the young, the old, fathers, mothers and their children - even babies. There are so many children McDowell County foster care that it sounding an alarm for prescription drug abuse.
"When you're dealing with families and you're having to take kids into foster care for those reasons, then you start to wonder - or having too many kids born with narcotics in their system, we knew that there was a problem," said Hardin.
In the D.S.S. filing room, where the folders for each child's case are kept locked behind a metal door, the number of files is exploding.
"Probably about 75 percent of the reports that we get, have substance abuse pieces to them," said Hardin.
Hardin says D.S.S. is seeing about one hundred new cases every month, many of them children taken away from parents abusing prescriptions.
They're pills that are breaking up families
"When I first started, 28 years ago - we may see an overdose a month, two a month," said Major Eugene Edwards, EMS Operations Officer for McDowell County. "Now we're seeing five and six a week."
Many blame the poor economy for the rise in prescription drug abuse. It's spiking nationwide in recent years and has now hit the county hard.
"Seems like the natural progression of how things are going. It's across all socioeconomic steps and things - you don't know who it's gonna be or where it's gonna be," said Edwards.
And so the community has started Project Lazarus - a program that's reduced overdose numbers in other counties by bringing the community together.
D.S.S, E.M.S., the sheriff's department, local police, schools and hospitals have sent representatives to monthly Lazarus meetings.
"We've had a couple of community forums with all the medical providers in the county and those were very helpful," said Hardin.
They're asking healthcare providers to screen more rigorously before giving a prescription and now making flyers that advertise a recently installed sheriff's department pill drop-box and ways to keep kids out of the cabinet.
The goal is to stop the spread of the pills, and with it the addictions that grow the files and - if they can do that - reunite children with the families that the little orange bottles broke apart.
For more information you can contact D.S.S. Director Phillip Hardin at 828-659-0617.
By Ashlea Surles
Follow Ashlea on Twitter @AshleaSurles