WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Police in Winston-Salem say drug overdoses have been trending high over the past three years and resources around the county are being exhausted.
"It's a manpower issue," explains Lt. William Penn. "We're running EMS ragged, as well."
Lt. Penn says officers are responding to overdoses nearly every day and every time they do they use Narcan to try and revive the victims. The numbers are scary; Lt. Penn says in 2016 officers used Narcan 91 times. In 2017, they've already used in 117 times. It's not even September.
Lt. Penn is one of a handful of community leaders who met Thursday night at Union Baptist Church on Trade St.
The idea is to bring together all people involved with the problem, including law enforcement, EMS, spiritual leaders and even a former addict to try and find a solution.
"I'm hoping that someone who sells this poison to the community realizes that once it leaves their hands, they have no idea what may happen," Lt. Penn explains, adding they're going after drug dealers. If there is an overdose death, dealers could even face murder charges.
"They are our target. If you are selling illegal drugs in this community we are going to target."
The courts are trying another approach. There's a plan to revive drug treatment court in Forsyth County. If a drug offender is arrested, they would go into the program instead of doing jail time. They would have to check back in with the court every few weeks while they seek treatment to ensure they're staying clean or they could risk jail time.
"We're following them on a very regular basis," and says Judge Lawrence Fine, who presides as a district court judge in Forsyth County. "We don't just lose them for 6 or 12 months. We stay in constant contact with them."
The court is funded in part by a grant through the city of Winston-Salem and in part by funds from Phoenix Rising of Winston-Salem, a non-profit dedicated to fighting the heroin crisis.
The plan is to have the court up and running by the end of the year.
But Colin Miller is leery about both approaches. Miller is a former addict turned activist; he now runs the Twin City Harm Reduction Coalition and is involved in other drug treatment and recovery efforts around the Triad.
"It's more of the same sort of punishment and treatment of addiction and drug issues as a criminal justice issue rather than a public health issue," he explains.
Miller says he hopes to see more options for treatment because it's not one size fits all. He knows from experience, having overdosed himself.
"This is a very complex problem and it's not going to be solved by jumping on and leaning on the same policies that we've traditionally used."
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