HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - More than a hundred people gathered for a town hall meeting at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg to learn about the impacts of opioids and the problems they cause.
"We're in the middle of an epidemic," said Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy. "Prescription pain killers are really affecting our citizens in Mississippi."
According to the Mississippi Department of Health, one in 10 people in Mississippi misuse prescription drugs.
"There's a saying among addicts…hell, jail or rehab," said Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher.
"Last year in 2016 there were enough prescription pain killers dispensed in the state of Mississippi that every living breathing person in the state could have possessed approximately 70 dosage units each, that's 70 pills per every living, breathing person in the state," Dowdy said.
In 2016 there were 3,574,662 prescriptions written and 201,224,298 dosage units dispensed for opioids in the state, according to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.
The meeting in the Hub City is just one of many scheduled around the state, all looking to inform and help the public with opioid awareness.
"You're either going to wind up with a toe tag at the end of the day if they keep on, or they're going to wind up in prison…or they're going to get rehabilitated," Fisher said.
"Opioids have a tremendous impact in all of our communities, addiction doesn't discriminate. It occurs in families from all walks of life," said Diana Mikula, Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.
From a law enforcement perspective, officials are working to target the issue, and push those struggling to professional treatment.
"We are doing our part to start looking at prescribing habits, looking at aggressive enforcement action, as well as working with the treatment professionals to try to have some meaningful treatment options available for people out there," said FBI Special Agent in Charge of Mississippi, Christopher Freeze. "Particularly we are interested in doing our part to support that effort through looking at healthcare fraud and other issues involving illegal opioids and the over prescribing of them, and working with all law enforcement to do so."
According to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, for the past three years, there were 486 reported drug overdoses in the state. Of those reported, 394 were opioid related.
"We cannot arrest our way out of this situation, were not trying to figure out how to make more cases and how to put more people in jail, we're trying to figure out how to put less people in jail, and get people help to solve the growing problem," said Fisher.
July 11-13, 2017 there will be a Opioid and Heroin Mississippi Drug Summit in Madison.