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Town of Cary wants to screen sewage to find opioid users

The Town of Cary wants to screen residents' bodily waste in order to learn where people are using opioids.

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CARY, N.C. — The Town of Cary wants to screen residents' bodily waste in order to learn where people are using opioids.

State officials said North Carolina has seen an 800 percent increase in fatal overdoses from opioids over the past decade, but more data is needed to help solve the crisis.

Officials with the Town of Cary said there will be roughly 10 sampling stations within the town's wastewater collection system that will measure the concentration of opioids in human waste and wastewater. Each station will attempt to measure the level of opioid use in an area of about 3,000 to 5,000 homes. The data will be calculated to estimate the daily rate of opioid usage per every 1,000 people.

"It's very unique. We've never done anything like this in Cary before," said Jamie Revels, utilities director for the Town of Cary.

The data won't be able to pinpoint usage to a specific home or user, officials said.

Town officials are working with public and private agencies to determine the best locations for the sampling stations.

In his recent State of Cary address, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said the town has seen an increase in overdoses and overdose-related deaths in the past year.
Cary received $100,000 to test the plan when it was selected as a Champion City in the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge.

"Through this unique collection system, we will be able to go into small areas, like 5,000 people as opposed to 40,000 or 50,000," said Mike Bajorek, deputy Cary town manager. "We hope that will change the way public health officials will do their work."

Of the 35 cities and towns competing in the challenge, the grand prize winner will receive $5 million to implement their idea and four other cities will be awarded $1 million.

According to a November poll conducted by Elon University, one in every three people in North Carolina said they have been affected by the opioid addiction crisis. Those figures were even higher among millennials, where 43 percent said they've been affected, and suburban residents, at 38 percent, the poll showed.

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