The opioid epidemic does not discriminate — people from all walks of life are hooked and the town of Cary is feeling the impact too.
Cary is using innovative technology to fight back against the opioid crisis, but not everyone supports it.
“North Carolina, like the rest of America, is experiencing the most deadly public health emergency in American history,” said Donald McDonald, Executive Director of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina.
Last year Cary saw a 70 percent increase in drug overdoses.
“There are families out there who are grieving the loss of their sons and daughters,” said Chris Budnick, Executive Director of Healing Transitions.
The town of Cary believes the answer could lie underneath the streets, in the sewers.
“It helps to kind of pinpoint where there’s higher opioid use in Cary compared to some other parts and that can lead to some targeted responses,” said Budnick.
The town believes screening wastewater could flush out the opioid crisis.
The town is working with Biobot Analytics to launch a pilot program.
On Monday they will begin installing robots in some of the sewer systems around town to track opioid usage.
The data collected could help public health officials get an idea of which drugs are a problem in which neighborhoods.
“This is kind of an innovative attempt to respond to this,” Budnick said. “What I like about it is it gives the opportunity to try to overcome a little bit of that stigma by pointing out that, yes, this problem does happen in our communities.”
McDonald is a recovering addict himself.
“One in seven of us have a substance use disorder,” McDonald said. “There’s no definitive demographic or profile for this individual. I don’t understand the need to ascertain where concentrations of drug use are. All of us know someone who needs help with a drug problem.”
The town says the data will be shared with public health officials and educators so they can create effective programs specifically tailored to those at risk.
Town officials say there is no way to identify individual homes or people.
“Just because we don’t know who the individuals are or which households are using, we still potentially face some civil liberties issues by knowing which demographics or which concentrated areas are having drug problems,” McDonald said.
The program costs around $100,000, but is funded by a grant.