Mental illness, drug addiction series needs your input

Published in Thursday’s edition is the first story in a series, “We’re Losing a Generation,” a collection of stories about the mental health care system in Columbus County and how it is being stressed even further due to rampant narcotic and opioid use across all ages and social strata.

Writer Sammy Feldblum is authoring the story in collaboration with Scalawag magazine, which covers Southern issues.

Feldblum spent a week in Columbus County, starting with the opioid forum Nov. 8 at SCC, and interviewed more than 25 people for the story, which will be told in six parts. He’s back in town today and tomorrow to do follow-up interviews.

The idea for “We’re Losing a Generation” began over a period of time. The quote came from a member of the faith community who works with young people in trouble. He’s worried about what he sees.

Originally, The News Reporter’s and Scalawag’s plan was to concentrate on the shortcomings of the mental health care system here. Staff members had begun to hear EMS and police units dispatched to mental crisis calls daily, often where the patient was violent or threatening suicide. We learned that the hospital emergency department is routinely packed with mental crisis patients waiting for days and sometimes weeks for admission to an in-patient mental facility.

This came on the heels of what was essentially the collapse of the two biggest employers in the county, the tobacco and textile industries, then The Great Recession. With the economy crippled, people turned to drugs—namely, opioids.

During the course of Feldblum’s investigation, he heard from a sheriff’s office detective who is exasperated with the uphill battle against the number of opioids on the street: providers wrote 178 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people in the county last year. The same detective said that he went to bed each night for 10 days worried about a teenager who threatened to kill herself but couldn’t find help.

He heard how a father has had to repeatedly rescue his drug-addicted daughter from a “whorehouse.” Another father expects to bury his daughter soon because of her addiction.

He learned that Columbus County and other counties in the state once had central offices where people having a mental crisis could find and get help. Now, due to privatization, people are often left to their own devices.

He talked with a class of high school students, most of whom know friends who are dealing with mental illness or drugs or both.

Each interview has its own compelling story line.

“We’re Losing a Generation” isn’t just an investigative piece. In its final installment, we hope to suggest possible solutions. As Andy Anderson says in today’s story, all is not lost.

Faith-based organizations, health care providers, law enforcement and others are all working to help.

Currently, though, it is not enough.

We hope you’ll continue reading the series because, as the title suggests, the lack of attention to mental illness and drug addiction has been particularly devastating to young people.

Maybe you can be part of the solution.

Your input is important. We welcome your comments, which can be emailed to leshigh@nrcolumbus.com or sfeldblum@gmail.com.