Highlighting North Carolina’s opioid problem, Attorney General Stein visits Durham’s TROSA

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DURHAM

The demographics of the men and women enrolled at Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers have changed dramatically in recent years as opioid usage has grown across the country.

In 2017, about 40 percent of the 500 people in TROSA’s rehabilitative programs are there because of an addiction to prescription opiates or heroin. That number was only 15 percent in 2010.

And the population has grown increasingly younger, too.

In the past two years, nearly all of the growth at TROSA has come from those under the age of 35, while the older population there has remained constant, according to TROSA Chief Operating Officer Keith Artin.

For many the story started similarly: abusing a prescription for an opiate painkiller after a broken arm or wisdom-teeth surgery.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein was in Durham on Tuesday to tour TROSA’s facility to learn about the nonprofit’s approach to addiction and to raise awareness of the state’s opioid problem. Stein was joined by state Sens. Floyd McKissick and Mike Woodard, and state Rep. MaryAnn Black, all Democrats from Durham.

“This is a growing crisis in North Carolina and people have to understand how serious it is – in part so that young people know to steer clear of these drugs and not mess around with them,” Stein said. “A young person can become addicted after only a few usages of these medications.”

TROSA has about 500 participants who live on the nonprofit’s Durham campus and work in its operations – which include a thrift store, moving service and annual Christmas tree sales – while undergoing treatment for addiction and training for careers. The nonprofit offers a two-year residency program that is free to participants and funded by private donations.

More than 90 percent of graduates from TROSA maintain recovery from addiction one year after graduation, and more than 90 percent are employed a year later as well.

Stein – who has made tackling opiate addiction a flagship issue for his first term in office – pointed toward the success of TROSA as an example for the state. North Carolina has four of the top 25 worst cities in the U.S. for opioid abuse, according to a report from Castlight Health, a health care information company.

“There are hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians that suffer from some form of substance use disorder,” he said, noting that only one out of 10 substance abusers received some form of treatment last year.

“We as a society aren’t doing enough to help people who want to get healthy and want to get well. That’s why we need to support groups like TROSA, and that’s why I am here today.”

Momentum is growing in the N.C. General Assembly to address opioid abuse, which has become a growing problem in the U.S. Opioid-related overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this year, Stein and a group of Republican lawmakers introduced the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention, or STOP, Act. The bill would limit doctors to prescribing no more than a five-day supply of opioid during an initial visit to treat a patient’s pain issue, such as a broken bone, and create an electronic data system to prevent abusers from visiting different doctors.

The bill, which passed in the N.C. General Assembly’s House unanimously earlier this month, would also allocate money to abuse treatment and recover services such as TROSA, Stein said.

“This is a nonpartisan issues,” Stein said. “It affects urban and rural, it affects east and west, it affects blacks and whites and Democrats and Republicans. There’s widespread consensus that we need to take broad steps to solve this crisis.”

For its part, TROSA has received funds from the state in recent years. The nonprofit has received $3.2 million over the past two years to expand its operations, including the construction of a new building on its campus.

McKissick, who has worked with the nonprofit since it was founded in 1994, said its growth from around 50 people participating in its earlier years has been a “radical transformation.”

He said he thinks the General Assembly has done well by TROSA but added “we gotta do more.”

“There is great interest in the General Assembly about duplicating what is being done here elsewhere – perhaps in High Point, the Triad area,” he said.