When a grieving parent came to Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger looking for ways to help raise awareness around opioid-related deaths, she spurred a change in how data and public records intertwine. Utilizing public information from death certificates, the Sheriff’s Office and Buncombe County Emergency Management Services, Reisinger and his team used geographic information systems (GIS) to help tell the story of the opioid epidemic in Buncombe County.
“We use GIS every day to help us track parcels of land, create street maps, and help connect our residents to their parks,” said Reisinger. “By harnessing the same technology, we can tell the story of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones who we’ve lost to this cruel and unrelenting epidemic. That story, we hope, will help raise awareness and connect people in need to resources that are available.”
The website pulls publicly available information such as trends over time and demographics to show how deaths from opioids have affected our community and who they’ve impacted. In Buncombe County, the majority of overdoses since 2010 have primarily occurred in white males between the ages of 20 and 39. The website, using a heat map, shows the occupations of those who have died: psychologist, electrician, chef, homemaker, and more.
Deputy Register of Deeds Miranda Stewart, who pulled this project together, shared more about the process: "Using data specific to Buncombe County helps us better understand where and how our community has been affected. Although state data is useful, it can take up to a year or longer to receive, making it difficult to understand if current policies and programs are helping in the community we have the privilege to serve."
In addition to charting patterns and demographics, the website also provides connections to support. “One thing we want our community to be able to take away from this is that these were individuals whose lives mattered,” said Buncombe County Opioid Response Coordinator Amy Upham. “And, secondly, that help is available. Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers, MAHEC, and Vaya Health all have resources to help if you or someone you love is wanting to enter treatment.”
The website also features the National Safety Council’s Memorial Site “Celebrating Lost Loved Ones.”
To visit the website exploring the opioid epidemic, go to buncombecounty.org/opioids. This Story Map application is best viewed on a larger screen with a modern web browser.