Durham County families push for more to be done to address opioid epidemic

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Sharon Sawyer said her son, Chase Wilson, was always a happy kid and that baseball was his passion.

“He played baseball from when he was 4 years old until he was a senior in high school,” Sawyer said.

But for years, she said her son battled a drug addiction. It was fentanyl that killed him last year.

“He turned 30 on Aug. 15, and on Sept. 4 I found him in the bathroom. He was hunched over, and I couldn’t wake him,” Sawyer said. “It has broken me. I don’t feel like the same person.”

Sawyer said her son battled drug addiction for years. There were times he would go to a couple of different doctors to get opioid prescriptions.

“I know, for a fact, he would hurt himself and ended up in the emergency room just to get the pills,” Sawyer said. “He broke his hand with a hammer so he could get the pills.”

This week, Durham County announced a lawsuit filed against CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and other major retail pharmacies was selected as a bellwether case in the nationwide opioid litigation. The lawsuit claims the pharmacies are partially to blame for the opioid epidemic and that they purposely went ahead and filled suspicious prescriptions to maximize their profits. It alleges this caused a widespread distribution of opioids in the Durham County community.

In 2019, 1,808 North Carolinians died from opioid overdoses and 29 of those deaths were in Durham County.

Under law, pharmacists are required to look for “red flags” when filling prescriptions. There is a monitoring system in place that pharmacies have access to in North Carolina.

At Central Pharmacy, manager Michael Verble said they use the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), which tracks patient prescriptions.

“Through this, we can see if they’ve filled the prescription somewhere else, and if they have then we would refuse to fill that prescription,” Verble said.

Verble said they also keep a close eye on who is writing their patients’ prescriptions.

“For instance, is there is a lot of prescriptions coming from the same prescriber for the same medication? That could be a red flag,” Verble said.

Verble said he thinks the resources that are in place are helping them keep pills out of the wrong hands. But he said pharmacists should take it a step further and get to know their patients. He said his pharmacy only works with doctors in the area who they know.

As for Sawyer, she just wants more done to prevent any future deaths related to opioid abuse.

“For me, the only way I’m getting through this is the possibility of helping someone else,” Sawyer said.

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