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Deer shooting at Smith Reynolds Airport gets go-ahead

Problem deer at Smith Reynolds Airport may soon be a thing of the past with Winston-Salem’s passage of an ordinance allowing wildlife professionals to use rifles to eliminate the deer.

Officials have set up blocks of time in September, October and November in which the deer would be killed.

Airport Director Mark Davidson said shooting won’t take place in all the days blocked off, but that wildlife officers doing the work need flexibility in the dates to take into account the weather and other scheduling issues.

Officials have said that maybe 15 deer need culling from the airport property. They say it could take three to four weeks to kill all the deer by shooting them at night one or two nights a week.

The Winston-Salem City Council voted 6-1 on Aug. 19 to amend an existing section of the city code to allow the elimination of the deer to go forward.

A crew of three wildlife officers will shoot the deer during night expeditions to the airport property. They will use infrared devices and night-vision equipment, which will assist them in their task and prevent lights from bothering anyone around the airport.

The rifles used by the wildlife officers will have noise suppression. Officials say they will take care not to fire weapons in a direction that could hurt someone.

The blocks of time that have been set off are Sept. 9-20, Oct. 7-18 and Nov. 11-22.

Davidson said wildlife officers usually like to carry out their work in the fall when the leaves are off the trees and deer are more easily spotted.

But at Smith Reynolds, the deer problem is such that action is needed sooner rather than later, Davidson said.

“I think it is pretty urgent,” Davidson said. “We are observing wildlife and get calls to chase them off.”

Planes have been damaged in collisions with deer, and pilots have had to abort takeoffs because of deer on the runway.

So far, no one has been hurt, but airport officials say getting rid of the deer is clearly the most urgent safety concern.

When someone sights a deer on the runway, Davidson said, an effort is made to scare off the animal.

“We have a fire department as well as maintenance workers, so whoever is available will drive out,” he said. “They will use bangers or honk horns, but usually the deer are gone by the time they get out there.”

The airport has fencing, but it is obviously not completely deer-proof fencing. Davidson told city officials this spring that eight-foot fencing has been installed along 200 yards of the airport perimeter, but that the fencing cost $150,000 and more is needed.

The slaughtered deer will be dressed on site and taken to Asheboro, where a meat processor will produce frozen venison for donation to local agencies that serve the hungry, including Samaritan Ministries, Second Harvest, Catholic Social Services and the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission.

Wildlife officers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will do the culling at no cost. Jimmy Capps, a wildlife biologist who presented the plan to the city in April, said they’ll start while the leaves are still green.

“When everything is green, the deer can be much harder to detect, and they are not as active,” he said. “They don’t move around as much. We prefer to do our work after the first frost, when things are cooler.”

During the Aug. 19 meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council, one person asked why deer couldn’t be tranquilized and removed.

Capps said that is not an option.

“The reason we can’t tranquilize them is because of the possibility of spreading disease,” Capps said. “North Carolina Wildlife Resources will not allow us to move deer.”

The risk is that by moving a deer from the airport property to another location, Capps said, a sick deer may be inadvertently placed into a healthy herd and spread disease.

Yea or neigh: Horse patrols may be on pace to Winston-Salem streets

Police officers patrolling from the back of a horse can look over a crowd more easily than an officer on foot or in a car, Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson is saying.

Officers on a horse can gallop down a recreational trail with ease and make it to some remote spot. They decrease crime because would-be perpetrators can tell they will be more easily detected, she said.

Northwest Ward Council Member Jeff MacIntosh adds another reason to bring mounted patrols back: They’re cool.

“Let’s do it!” MacIntosh told City Manager Lee Garrity in an email, after reading Thompson’s report on mounted patrols. “We’ll get our start-up costs back in free publicity if we play it right. Also, let’s not overlook the ‘Trojan horse’ aspect of getting some additional park rangers or downtown officers in the bargain.”

MacIntosh said he’s no horse buff, but that he passed the idea on to Garrity, and thus to Thompson, after it was mentioned to him by police officers and others.

“I would love to say it is my idea,” MacIntosh said. “I am the one that put it in the spotlight. They are exceptionally good crowd control. They offer the right amount of presence in a non-threatening way. So they are a sort of force multiplier.

“People love them,” he added. “Everywhere I have been, people are drawn to them like magnets.”

The city is still a long way away from bringing back horse patrols, city officials say. But they are looking at the idea.

In her report, Thompson says it would take about $120,000 to get a four-man — and four-horse — patrol going, not counting the salaries of the officers.

Once up and running, annual costs would be $37,200: About $25,000 to board and feed the horses, and another $12,000 for veterinary care and shoeing the horses.

The startup costs include $32,000 for four draft cross horses, $45,000 for a truck with towing equipment, $27,000 for a four-stall horse trailer, about $9,000 for tack and about $4,500 for uniforms.

Thompson calls the benefits of having a horse patrol “immeasurable.”

“Until recently, the most overlooked attribute of a mounted patrol is their community contacts,” Thompson wrote. “Citizens of all ages are intrigued and eager to engage uniformed officers on horseback. Be it the love of animals or the novelty of officers on horseback, a mounted patrol officer draws people to strike up a conversation with an officer that may normally bypass any interaction. This builds positive community relationships and positive police interactions.”

Thompson cites more concrete benefits as well: Besides allowing patrols on greenways, such as Muddy Creek or Salem Lake trails, mounted officers can better engage in search and rescue missions over difficult terrain.

In a crowd, she said, a mounted officer gets an elevated view that robs a would-be perpetrator of the anonymity of a crowd. And mounted officers are good for crowd control, she said, being able to disperse unruly crowds with techniques that minimize injuries to both officers and citizens.

The city last had a mounted officer in 1999. That year, the city auctioned off Shadow, the last horse of the patrol. An article in the Journal said that Shadow had helped control crowds at the Dixie Classic Fair, nudging people out of the way and breaking up fights. Shadow had galloped up on people rolling joints in Washington Park.

The officer who rode Shadow said he had patrolled the grounds of public housing complexes and stopped to let children pet the first horse they’d ever encountered up close.

Shadow and the other horses — there were four, originally — were brought in the late 1980s as part of the community policing philosophy.

By the time the patrols ended, police had already decided that the cost and benefits of mounted patrols could be better managed with officers on bikes. The bike patrol started in 1985.

Sgt. Kevin Bowers of the bike patrol said that if horses come back, he’ll stick to his bike. But he does see a mounted patrol as a good thing to have.

“I know that presence-wise for crowd control they are supposed to be a fantastic tool,” he said. “I don’t believe currently any of us are horse folks.”

No one’s talking about eliminating bikes to make way for horses, but Garrity said the city does have to look at the budgetary issues in a time when concerns over gun violence have mounted.

“The police department prepared a report of what it would cost to get back into the horse business,” Garrity said. “The budget office was already studying the bike patrol. I have asked them to look at a mounted patrol too (including) what other cities are doing.”

In North Carolina, only Raleigh and Wilmington have mounted patrols, MacIntosh said.

“I don’t think we’re talking about a big herd, but it would shed some positive light on the city,” he said.

Jason Thiel, the president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, said that he thinks a horse patrol downtown would get a positive reaction from people, but he wants to make sure horses wouldn’t come at the expense of bikes.

“When I was in college, we had them in Philadelphia,” Thiel said. “We saw them at night when the bars closed up late, and also during events for crowd control. You definitely felt they were able to see things a lot better because they were higher up and able to clear a path.”

Garrity said horse patrols, if they come back at all, wouldn’t be back until the end of 2020 because of the way the budgeting cycle works.

MacIntosh swore he wasn’t going for a pun when he commented on how the mounted patrol concept might fare:

“I don’t think there will be any nay-sayers other than those with a particular concern for costs,” he said.

Forsyth reaches record opioid-related deaths for second consecutive year

The Triad’s two largest counties experienced increases in the number of unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths during 2018, while their three metro peers had sizable decreases.

The latest opioid report from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, released last week, found that Forsyth County had 84 opioid-related overdose deaths, up from 74 in 2017 and 55 in both 2016 and 2015.

It is the highest annual death toll for Forsyth since DHHS began disclosing death statistics for that category in 1999.

Meanwhile, Guilford County’s death rate rose from 99 to 102 in 2018.

Comparing the state’s five main metro areas for 2018, Durham County had 33 opioid-related deaths (down 17.5%), Mecklenburg County had 153 (down 14.5%) and Wake County had 91 (down 25.4%).

Joshua Swift, director of Forsyth Department of Public Health said the county opioid task force is working with stakeholders to educate and respond to the socioeconomic crisis.

“It is important to remember everyone can help combat the crisis by speaking with their doctors about prescribed medication and taking the medication responsibly, locking up your medication, safely disposing of your medication and supporting community-wide harm reduction efforts,” Swift said.

“Additionally, if you know someone that may have a substance use problem, educate yourself about addiction and provide them with support.”

Forsyth and Guilford also went against an overall statewide decrease from 2,006 to 1,785, a 5% decline that’s the first in five years. There was a statewide average of 4.9 deaths per day, down from 5.5 deaths per day in 2017.

“Opioid overdose deaths and emergency department visits are two key metrics set forth in our Opioid Action Plan,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, said in a statement. “Efforts to improve outcomes in those areas are clearly showing a positive impact.

“While this is a significant achievement, we know far too many North Carolina families are still suffering. We must continue to focus on prevention, reducing harm and connecting people to care.”

The 14-county region of the Triad and Northwest N.C. had 379 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2018, a 4.3% decline from 396 in 2017.

Forsyth’s opioid-related death count was consistent throughout 2018, with 22 fatalities in the first, second and fourth quarters, and 18 in the third quarter.

DHHS said the state’s hospital emergency department visits for opioid-related overdoses declined nearly 10% from 2017 to 2018.

Bridget Bridgman, senior director of medication safety and outcomes for Novant Health Inc., said the system’s opioid-reduction initiative includes “using multiple forms of pain therapy to reduce opioid prescribing and providing better pain relief, as well as improving access to behavioral health services through outpatient assessment centers.

“We’ve also been committed to ending the stigma associated with substance-use disorder by choosing clinically accurate, compassionate and person-first words to ensure our patients and community members feel like they can easily access treatment, reach recovery and live healthier lives.”

Elizabeth Shilling, assistant director of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s Addiction Research and Clinical Health program, said the overall statewide decline “is the direct result of the tremendous efforts by DHHS, the N.C. Healthcare Foundation, the Attorney General’s program, More Powerful NC and many others.”

“This decline highlights that prevention and treatment for substance use disorders work, and that when we provide continued attention and funding for treatment we save lives.”

More work

Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement that the annual decline in unintentional opioid-related deaths represents “a major milestone for North Carolina, but the figures show we have much more work to do to keep people healthy and alive.”

“Medicaid Expansion is the easiest and most effective step our state can take to continue our fight against this deadly disease,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s main legislative agenda priority is expanding state Medicaid program to between 450,000 to 650,000 North Carolinians.

Cooper vetoed the Republican state budget compromise on June 28, citing the lack of Medicaid expansion and lower public school educator raises than in his budget proposal.

With GOP legislative leaders, foremost Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, declining to address Medicaid expansion legislation, the budget stalemate entered Day 68 on Monday. The legislature is in recess until Sept. 9-10.

Cooper signed the Opioid Epidemic Response Act into law in July.

The law removes the ban on use of state funds to purchase syringe exchange program supplies, decriminalizes the possession of fentanyl tests strips that allow people to test drugs for dangerous contaminants and increases access to office-based opioid treatment.

Primary goals

DHHS is tracking data on five primary goals: reducing deaths; reducing oversupply of prescription opioids; reducing drug diversion and illicit drug flow; increasing naloxone access; and increasing access to treatment and recovery services.

More than 454 million opioid pills were dispensed to North Carolinians during 2018, or about 44 for each resident. That was down from 523.5 million in 2018, or about 52 for each resident.

About 14.14 million opioid pills were dispensed in Forsyth in 2018, down from 20.2 million in 2017. For the Triad and Northwest N.C. counties, there were 89.89 million opioid pills dispensed in 2018.

State health officials said opioid-overdose deaths typically are “due to the increase in potent illicit drugs, like heroin and fentanyl (and fentanyl analogues).” Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid.

In February 2018, Forsyth officials filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Other groups that have filed similar lawsuits include Winston-Salem and Davidson, Davie, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin counties.

Defendants typically have been more than 20 drug manufacturers, distributors and their subsidiaries, including Cardinal Health Inc. of Dublin, Ohio, which has a distribution center in Greensboro; McKesson Corp. of San Francisco, whose registered agent is Corporation Service Co. of Raleigh; and Amerisourcebergen Drug Corp. of Chesterbrook, Pa.

The lawsuit alleges the companies used a number of methods to deceptively market opioid medication, such as Oxycodone, and provided misleading or false information about how addictive the drugs could become. The companies marketed those drugs to vulnerable communities, such as the elderly and veterans, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges that the companies found ways around restrictions imposed under settlements with the U.S. government to stop deceptive marketing.

This was done through organizations such as the American Pain Association and through doctors who continued to push opioid medications and minimize the risks of addiction, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also said that companies engaged in an illegal racketeering scheme to promote opioids and ignored suspiciously high orders of opioid prescriptions that would have indicated that there was an illegal market for the drugs.

As a result, the companies reaped huge profits while opioid addiction ravaged counties, such as Forsyth.

“In 1999, our county experienced, unfortunately, five opiate-related deaths,” Dave Plyler, chairman of the Forsyth Board of Commissioners, said in a news release about the lawsuit.

“Then in 2016, we experienced 55 such deaths. That’s a 1,000% increase in opiate-related deaths, not to mention the 456 deaths in the years between.”

Plyler said the opioid crisis has a huge impact on law-enforcement, the county’s departments of social services and health and resources for mental health.

On Friday, Plyler said there have been days recently when multiple individuals have been reported as dying from an opioid overdose.

“It used to be three a month,” Plyler said, “Without the necessary resources, this county is under attack from opioids.”

Action plan

On Thursday, DHHS launched an updated Opioid Action Plan 2.0 at a summit event Thursday to build on the state’s progress.

The updated plan “highlights the need for collaborations between local health departments, law enforcement, counties, non-profits and other organizations to identify impactful, feasible strategies to reduce opioid overdoses, increase access to treatment, and continue to gain more ground in the opioid crisis.”

DHHS has received more than $75 million to date in federal funding for prevention and to increase treatment capacity across the state.

That includes DHHS launching an initiative to train medical residents, physician assistant, and nurse practitioners in providing office-based opioid treatment, reaching more than 700 providers to date.

DHHS also launched a medication-assisted treatment program pilot with the state Department of Public Safety to reduce overdose-related deaths among people who are re-entering communities upon leaving prison.

“There is nothing more tragic than the opioid addiction,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, who co-chairs the state Senate Health committee.

Krawiec said the Republican-controlled legislature has passed legislation to address the epidemic, foremost the 2017 STOP Act, which is aimed at reducing excessive or otherwise inappropriate opioid prescribing.

The law limits how much opioid pain medication can be prescribed for acute pain. The limits do not apply to opioid prescriptions for chronic pain, or to opioid prescriptions for acute pain related to an underlying chronic medical condition, according to the N.C. Medical Board.

“Lives are being lost and families are being destroyed. Our entire community is suffering from the results,” Krawiec said.