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Asheville/Buncombe County - Opioid Addiction Symptoms & Treatment

Opioid Addiction Symptoms & Treatment image

OVER 17 MILLION PAINKILLERS WERE PRESCRIBED IN BUNCOMBE COUNTY IN 2016. This equals almost 68 pills for every adult and child in Buncombe County.

From January to August 2017 there were 230 opioid overdose emergency department visits in Buncombe County.

Today in North Carolina, you are more likely to die of an overdose than a car crash.

Addiction is a disease and can happen to anyone. Whether you or someone you know is impacted by opioid addiction, help and hope are closer than you think.

The Opioid Epidemic

Opioids are chemicals that are either produced from the opium poppy plant or created in a lab to have the same effects.

Some opioids are prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, codeine cough syrup, Percocet, or Vicodin. Some opioids, like heroin and fentanyl, are produced illicitly and are illegal drugs.

Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They reduce the sending of pain messages to the brain and reduce feelings of pain. They are also highly addictive and can be deadly.

The Bottom Line: your risk of addiction increases every day that you take prescription opioids.

You can keep up with opioid related news and ways to be involved by visiting the News section on this page.

Prescription Painkillers (Opioids) can include: Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percocet, Tylox, Demerol, and Fentanyl, among others. Heroin is also an opioid. Lock up or hide your medication, and properly dispose of old, expired, or unused medicines.

Prescription Painkillers (Opioids) can include:
Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percocet, Tylox, Demerol, and Fentanyl, among others. Heroin is also an opioid.

3 Ways to Help

Ways to help: Option 1 - Talk about this as a health epidemic to your children and friends.
Ways to help: Option 2 - Decrease the number of painkillers in use in our community. Ask your doctor for other ways to deal with pain. Secure your painkillers. Safely dispose of unused painkillers.
Ways to help: Option 3 - Know the signs and symptoms of addiction and support those who want to begin their recovery.

Symptoms of Substance Misuse / Addiction

Man helping women with signs of substance misuse / addiction
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Unkempt, dirty appearance
  • Track marks
  • Withdrawn or depressed
  • Makes endless excuses
  • Uncharacteristically loud, obnoxious behavior
  • Laughs at nothing
  • Cash flow issues / missing valuables
  • Missing / burnt spoons
  • If you need help or someone you know has issues with substance use disorder - contact VAYA at 1-800-849-6127.

Our Response

Buncombe County and partners throughout our community are coming together to address the opioid addiction crisis. Our response includes:

  • A youth led Opioid Summit focused on opioid education and awareness involving schools, students and parents.
  • Faith Based Outreach and Engagement: Over 60 leaders from the faith community came together in September 2017 to learn more and commit to action.
  • Increasing drug take back events throughout the community.
  • Community Listening Sessions: Our Community Engagement Team is engaging with residents to hear about their experiences with opioids in their community and how they are making a difference.
  • Continuing Physician Education: Over 1,000 medical providers have been trained via MAHEC on safer prescribing practices.
  • Web-based toolkits: Working with the Partnership for Substance Free Youth to provide resources to school administrators and parents regarding substance use disorder.
  • School Health Trainings: School Health Nurses offered education to over 50 school administrators on the opioid epidemic and provided Narcan and training to schools.
  • Abba House Opening: Abba House will offer transitional housing for new mothers in recovery with peer support and safe housing along with their newborn.
  • Sobriety and Treatment Teams: A special unit of social workers and parent mentors that intervene quickly to get parents into treatment, provide peer support and actively partner with parents and children for better outcomes for the entire family unit.
  • Partnering with Mission and MAHEC to provide supports to pregnant and new mothers with substance use disorder so that they can make a safety plan, understand how to care for themselves and their newborn safely, and access appropriate levels of treatment for substance misuse.
  • Filing a public nuisance lawsuit against the drug manufacturers and wholesale drug distributors that made the opioid epidemic possible.
  • Request for Proposal to community partners for supportive follow up services for people impacted by opioid overdose.
  • Leading an inter-agency Painkiller Task Force to explore and implement community based strategies on combating the disease of opioid addiction. Let us know if you would like to be a member of the Prescription Painkiller Task Force.
  • Pairing community members with medical experts to educate our community on opioid basics, addiction and treatment.
  • Want to learn more about the opioid epidemic? Request a speaker from our Prescription Painkiller Speaker’s Bureau.
  • Request Closer posters and Alternative Pain Relief bookmarks from us!

Make no mistake: All teens are at risk

Nearly half of young people who inject heroin start by using prescription drugs. More than 90% of adults with substance use disorders started using before age 18 half of these cases started using drugs before age 15.

A growing number of student athletes are also at risk of becoming addicted to painkillers after being prescribed pain medication for an injury. Common drugs that are given are: Vicodin, OxyContin or Percocet.

Students also encounter these drugs outside of the doctor’s office either through a friend or by stealing medications from someone else. With the changing drug landscape, any pill NOT obtained from a pharmacy can contain the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl. Regardless, all opioids should be considered addictive and deadly.

Parents: talk to your children and teens about drugs and about taking pills. Kids who learn about the dangers of drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs. As you talk with your child about the dangers of drugs, do not lose the important opportunity to discuss the danger of taking pills.

Prescription painkillers are a last resort – talk before you take! Advocate for your child in the doctor’s office by talking with your child’s medical provider about non-addictive forms of pain relief. As a young person grows, their brains are not fully formed until the age of 25. The longer you can keep a young person from using any drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to avoid issues with substance misuse use as an adult. This flyer talks about the risk of painkiller addiction in students, and has been distributed to students and parents in Asheville City and Buncombe County Schools.

Students: If you need help dealing with substance use for yourself or someone you care about, your school nurse or guidance counselors can help. Recovery is possible and support is available.

Youth at Risk Graphic: Young girl playing softball

Alternative Pain Treatment

The truth is while evidence supports short-term effectiveness of opioids, there is insufficient evidence that opioids control chronic pain effectively over the long term, and there is evidence that other treatments can be effective with less harm.

Research has shown taking a 500mg tablet of acetaminophen and one 200mg tablet of ibuprofen taken together up to 4 times a day with food and water is most effective for treating acute pain. Ask your doctor and/or healthcare provider about the risks of opioid based pain medications and what alternative pain treatment is available.

Image of alternative pain treatments

Disposal Drop-off

Learn How & Where to Dispose

Safe Drug Storage & Anonymous Disposal

Most abused prescription drugs come from family and friends. You could be a drug dealer without even knowing it. Everyone in Buncombe County should take the following steps:

  • Count the number of painkillers in your home
  • Keep your medications in their original labeled containers, this will help prevent any accidental misuse.
  • Keep opioid medications out of sight, preferably in a secured location, such as a locked box or cabinet and out of the reach of children and teens.
  • Properly dispose of unwanted, unused, or expired medications. Buncombe county has several locations with secure drop boxes.

When discarding unwanted, unused, or expired medications, please follow these instructions:

  • remove identification from all medications.
  • separate pill, liquids and inhalers.
  • use a different disposal paper or plastic bag for each type of medication.
  • empty dry pill medications into a bag.
  • leave liquid medications in their original container and place in a separate bag.
  • NO radioactive medications such as cancer medications, needles or sharp objects accepted.

Drug Drop Box Locations

*Interact with the map below for address and time information:

Get Help Now

Treatment Information, News Articles & Videos

Treatment, Recovery, & Support

Treatment and recovery are possible and closer than you think. Our community has multiple partnering agencies that are well-equipped and experienced at providing resources you or your loved one needs to take that critical first step toward recovery.

Science has proven that substance use disorder is a chronic brain disease that can be managed with medical treatment. We must reduce the negative public perception of addiction to remove barriers to getting help. Because right now, only 1 in 10 Americans with a substance use disorder receive treatment.

  • Get help for yourself or loved ones. Call VAYA Health at 1-800-849-6127.
  • Dial 211 for connections to support resources in Buncombe County and across Western North Carolina.
  • Call MAHEC at (828) 257-4730 to explore your recovery options, especially if you are pregnant.
  • Visit the Peer Living Rooms at C3@356 to connect with people with lived experience in substance use disorder: (828) 254-2700 or go to 356 Biltmore Ave in Asheville.
  • Narcan, an overdose reversal drug, can save the life of a person experiencing an overdose. For more information on Narcan training and availability, visit
  • For Syringe Exchange and Disposal, the Steady Collective can be contacted at
  • Free HIV and Hep C Testing from the Western North Carolina AIDS Project, which can be reached at (828) 252-7489 or by email at
  • For information about STD testing and family planning contact the Buncombe County Health Department at (828) 250-5000.
  • Research shows that peer support works! For more information about local peer support, contact Sunrise Community for Recovery and Wellness at (828) 552-3858.
  • If you are having a medical emergency or feel you are in danger, call 911.