ROWAN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) – Substance use, and its connection with the opioid epidemic, emerged as Rowan County’s greatest concern in need of fixing, according to the Community Health and Human Service Needs Assessment presented by the Rowan County United Way on Tuesday morning.

“It shows that it has to be addressed,” said Steve Fisher of the United Way board. “The substance abuse has so many levels to it, it affects our children, it affects our workforce. We talk about unemployment, it’s not really the problem. The jobs are there, it’s about helping folks that have a background check that they could pass…and be available to work.”

“By the information that came out, we know that the opioid epidemic is happening in our community,” said Alyssa Smith of Healthy Rowan. “We know there are some root causes of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, of mental health issues, of substance use issues in our community that need to be addressed. I think what the document does is really highlight where we need to work on. If we don’t address this issue now, it’s going to lead to the long-term chronic diseases later, quality of life, it’s going to affect business is here.”

The assessment was a product of the Rowan County United Way, Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, the Rowan County Health Department, and Healthy Rowan.

The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health conducted the surveys and made the presentation to community leaders on Tuesday at Trinity Oaks.

“Well, I think the biggest benefit of this process is what you can focus on with limited resources,” said Matthew Simon of UNC. “It’s looking at all of the different data, making sense of all of the data. A lot of different data points out that there are a lot of challenges, so figuring out what we do with our limited resources, how can we affect change with the little that we have.”

Substance Use emerged as the top issue, followed by Mental Health, and Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors.

The assessment included a breakdown of how the survey was completed and what possible actions can be taken to deal with the most pressing concerns.

Proposed actions for dealing with substance abuse included developing a quick response team that includes a social worker, law enforcement, and a peer specialist. Other plans included prevention and education programs, harm-reduction programs, and a live information map of overdoses to target place-based reduction efforts.

“So there are multiple levels to the three things that we were talking about,” Fisher added, “but I think as a community it’s no surprise, but a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

The organizers of the assessment are hopeful that the findings will be used to focus community energy and resources on the creation and implementation of three action plans to deal with the three issues that were raised.

People at the meeting on Tuesday were given a ballot after the presentation to select the top three most crucial needs. They were also asked to choose three areas that the county could realistically make progress in in the next three years.

By David Whisenant at WBTV

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