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News State / Region Organizations work to prevent drug overdoses in Western North Carolina

Last Saturday, Franklin joined major cities across the state in an effort to bring awareness to the disease of drug addiction. North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), a grassroots public health organization, hosted six events statewide in Asheville, Fayetteville, Franklin, Greensboro, Hickory and Chapel Hill. In Franklin, Saturday's event was held at Full Circle Recovery Center (FCRC).

The events consisted of a screening of a short documentary about drug overdose called “Reach for Me,” a brief overview of the epidemic, and a candle-light vigil with opportunities for attendees to remember their loved ones aloud.

“This past Saturday, Aug. 31, FCRC had the honor of being one of six North Carolina organizations who participated in the International Overdose Awareness Day by hosting the 1st Annual "Night of Hope" event,” said Stephanie Almeida of Full Circle Recovery. “After screening the film, attendees were able to participate in a discussion about local substance abuse issues, sign up for the Overdose Prevention Project training and be part of a candle-light vigil. With only seven people in attendance, more than 25 individuals were remembered as part of the Night of Hope services. Next year, I hope other Macon County residents will get involved, even if it's just to come out that night and help their community heal.”

“Expanding access to naloxone and training on how to prevent, recognize and respond to a drug overdose will save many lives in North Carolina,” says Robert Childs, executive director of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. “We hope to use Overdose Awareness Day to launch a new statewide campaign to put naloxone and other prevention tools into the hands of all people who need them.”

Full Circle Recovery Center, LLC (FCRC) is a substance abuse prevention and treatment agency as well as a N.C. approved DWI provider located in Franklin,” said Almeida. “FCRC opened its doors in January 2013. Our mission is to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by substance abuse by providing education, advocacy, prevention, intervention, and treatment services with honesty, tolerance, dignity and respect using a non-judgmental harm reduction approach.”

Almeida's dedication to drug overdose awareness and prevention is a personal mission. “The issue of overdose prevention is near and dear to my heart. In April of 2012, my brother Michael died of a poly-drug overdose with alcohol and benzodiazepines,” she said. “Michael suffered through life dealing with many traumas, some of them he was so ashamed of - and he self medicated with both alcohol and drugs to not feel the pain and shame. He died just three days short of when he agreed to go to the Balsam Center for crisis stabilization services. Unfortunately, he never made it. Instead he left his son, his parents, his siblings, his cousins, and many, many, other family and friends with such feeling of grief and loss. My wish is that someday, substance abuse is treated with a continuum of care similar to other chronic life threatening diseases such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease, which are all impacted by life-style related choices. Yet addiction is the one that has such an immoral stigma that it's shame prevents people from getting help.”

Recent legislation has changed the face of drug addictions in North Carolina, and has made it easier for individuals to seek help and treatment for the disease. On April 9, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a comprehensive overdose prevention bill.

“This bill provides limited immunity for people calling 911 or seeking medical help for a drug overdose, limited immunity for minors calling 911 or seeking medical assistance during alcohol poisonings, allows easier distribution for the overdose reversal medication Naloxone (aka Narcan) and reduces liability to prescribers and administrators of Naloxone. Due to these laws being implemented, we now have the Overdose Prevention Project and it will save lives in North Carolina,” said Almeida.

Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is an effective, non-addictive prescription medication that reverses opioid drug overdose. It can be given by intramuscular injection, as a nasal spray using a special adapter, or as an IV fluid.

Almeida’s work with Full Circle Recovery Center and events such as the Overdose Awareness Day are important to educate society on the detrimental effects of drug abuse.

“In my opinion, the Overdose Prevention Project is so important for many reasons. First, it provides a safe, healthy place for individuals who are addicted to substances to begin to access services necessary to save their lives by being trained to identify an overdose and to learn how to reverse one,” said Almeida. “Second, it builds on that initial contact so individuals who are addicted to substances and their families and friends can develop a rapport or a relationship with someone who can refer them to treatment and medical services. Third, it begins to raise awareness that overdoses happen in all populations of people, not just individuals addicted to substances. There are many people who overdose accidentally due to over medication of prescription pain killers such as fentanyl patches and oxycontin. I believe all individuals who are using opiates either legally or illicitly should have an overdose kit available to them as well as their families and friends.”

If you are interested in learning more about overdose prevention, if you or someone you love uses opiates/prescription pain pills either legally or not, or if you just want to know more, call Full Circle Recovery Center, LLC at 828-475-1920. The Overdose Prevention Project training and the Narcan kits are available free of charge.

Other local organizations in the community are also geared toward helping members in the community overcome addiction. Teen Challenge is a network of 501(c)3 nonprofit, faithbased drug and alcohol recovery programs in the United States.

The local Teen Challenge based in Dillsboro is part of a world-wide Christian ministry, with over 1,000 programs in almost 100 countries. In the U.S., there are more than 250 centers and Teen Challenge offers treatment through both teen and adult programs. The program is geared towards life recovery and restoration for drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, prostitutes and other “life-controlling” or “emotionally disabling” problems.

Teen Challenge of the Smokies operates to serve the counties of Western North Carolina. “Our office is located on Hwy 74 just outside of Dillsboro,” said Paul Hensley of Teen Challenge. “We operate mainly as a referral center right now, helping those with life controlling problems get into a Teen Challenge facility around the nation. We are in the process of beginning LifeChallenge small group gatherings as a support system for the family and friends of those with life controlling problems.”

The local Teen Challenge office receives 10 to 15 calls a month from those needing counseling, and referrals to facilities. “Our goal is to open a short term crisis intervention facility to house recovering addicts until they can get into a longer term care facility if needed,” said Hensley. “Drug addiction is decimating an entire group of our local community. It not only affects the addict but their family and extended family. It affects the workplace as many employees have to take time off to deal with the addict’s issues, from possibly being stolen from, to dealing with a wrecked car or bailing them out of jail.”


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