What happens next in the county’s struggle against opioid abuse will be as important as Friday’s raid of Dr. Jong Whan Kim’s Tabor City office.
That’s because the fight against opioid addiction must include a number of facets: enforcement, prevention, education and treatment.
That’s not to underplay the investigation and raid of what District Attorney Jon David termed a “pill mill.”
David said in a news conference that Kim operated a network that distributed pills throughout the community. Kim’s office had no medical equipment, no diplomas, nor anything else that would indicate Kim operated a legitimate medical practice near downtown Tabor City.
About a dozen people were in Kim’s lobby at the time of the raid, reportedly waiting to get prescriptions for opioids.
For some time, people have complained about local medical practices over prescribing opioids. Prescriptions of 90 pills were common. The opioid pipeline either helped feed one’s personal addiction or created an easy and profitable redistribution scheme where pills were sold for several times their retail value. The result was even more addiction, a spike in related crimes such as breaking and entering, and in many cases, tragic deaths by overdose or suicide.
During The News Reporter’s nine-part series last fall, reporter Sammy Feldblum learned that Columbus County leads the state in the number of opioid pills prescribed at approximately 150 per person. That’s a stunning number, so stopping those who led to so many pills being on the street was critical.
David said that complaints and tips from the public about Kim played a key role in the raid.
Sunday, a new mental health and substance abuse provider, Trillium, began coordinating services in Columbus County. Trillium says it will, among other things, open a local office where people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse can talk to a real person when help is needed. David said he and Sheriff Lewis Hatcher planned to talk with Trillium this week about how they can better coordinate a plan to help addicts and prevent more use.
David also warned that fewer pills on the street could easily lead to the use of heroin, a more dangerous and insidious opiate than what Kim prescribed.
More information about Kim will play out in the weeks and months ahead and in his trial, which should shed more light on the opioid network here.
Obviously, Friday’s raid is only the beginning. Shutting down rogue medical practices and arresting those who are complicit with illegal opioid distribution is critical because so many pills were distributed.
But it’s only a first step because opioids are so entrenched across the country. Raids such as the one Friday are step one in the fight, but because availability here has decreased – at least for now – more emphasis on prevention and treatment is necessary because, as David warned, a vacuum has been created and other dark forces are waiting to fill the gap.