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Panel Discussion at Lees-McRae College on March 20 Addresses Opioid Misuse in Avery County

By Tim Gardner

Opioid misuse has reached not only alarming, but horrifying levels across many parts of the United States, including in Avery County.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others. Some kinds of anesthesia are opioids. Medically, opioids are primarily used for pain relief.

Law enforcement officers, medical and mental health practitioners, school officials and social service professionals have warned that opioid misuse was a major problem years ago. And while progress has been made in thwarting drug abuse in Avery, it still exists in high volumes. People are still dying and many crimes are still linked to drugs, and jails and rehab facilities remain full with those who can’t handle their addiction. Costs of care and prevention are rising, and the ripple effect on families, employers, fellow students is mounting.

Therefore, a program designed for three purposes: to educate, bring awareness and help stop the ongoing opioid misuse as well as stop its misuse in the county was held Wednesday, March 20, in the Evans Auditorium at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk.

The event was co-hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk and Lees-McRae Student Nurses Association with funding provided by the High Country Charitable Foundation.

The program featured a panel discussion about fulfilling those three purposes with the Lees-McRae Student Nurses Association followed by the “Beautiful Boy” movie, sponsored by the High Country Charitable Foundation and nursing program. Based on the memoirs from father and son, David and Nic Sheff, the movie chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, release and recovery in a family coping with addiction.

The five-member panel gathered in front of approximately 50 Lees-McRae College students and community guests consisted of nursing faculty and students Dr. Teresa Darnall, Anna Reid and Madi Brown, who were joined by local residents Miriam Stamey and Jonathan Pendley.

Members of the panel shared their observations about the opioid problem in Avery County and their ideas about solving it. And those in the audience received details about how to make informed decisions regarding opioid use and misuse.

There also will be other local events scheduled involving other college as well high school and eighth grade students in which the older students can warn those on the lower grade levels about the dangers of misusing drugs and hopefully influence them to stay away from using them in any fashion other than which they may have been prescribed to them by a physician.

Stamey is in recovery from an addiction that nearly ended her life. She commented: “I never set out to become a drug addict. I grew up in and around addiction and I thought I knew better. I thought I wasn’t going to become one of those people. But at age 30, I had a toothache, and from the first pill, I was addicted to the point of an inability to not take another pill. The road I traveled carried me down a winding path of utter destruction and pain, not only for myself, but those who loved and cared for me.”

Stamey said she nearly died from an infection that began destroying her heart’s aortic valve. The infection stemmed from intravenous drug usage. She had to endure open-heart surgery to correct the problem.

Stamey, who has been sober for twenty months, found much-needed support through God and addiction counseling. “Through the midst of all the pain and heartache, I learned that nothing is too big for God. I’m sober, not through my own willpower, but through the strength, guidance and assistance given to me through Christ.”

From another addict in recovery: “I know addiction doesn’t discriminate, and sadly for people with influential backgrounds or higher incomes that encounter addiction, it might be seen from their point of view as something to be ashamed of and therefore not seek out help.

“A lot of time addiction is painted with a stigma that it affects people who are poor or come from parents who don’t pay their attention to their children. My husband who died from an overdose came from a very well off family who were in church and were dedicated parents.”

Part of a brochure distributed about the panel forum and movie reads: “Those with opioid problems are just like everyone else—hard-working, kind and thoughtful when not abusing. They’re our neighbors, fellow workers—all ages and sexes. Many received original prescriptions after surgery, or when battling injuries or cancer. But some slip, staying too high too long, on too many ‘as needed for pain drugs.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse addiction is defined as: “A chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders, and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.”

Even though progression of drug addictive disorders has been faster among women, men have a higher likelihood of becoming addicted. But anyone can succumb to drug abuse and addiction. Some drugs are more addictive than others. For instance, cocaine is known as a highly addictive drug. Painkillers may also create a faster tolerance and dependency. Even so, taking drugs that are thought to be “less addictive” can still put you on a path to drug addiction.

Researchers believe there may be a genetic predisposition to drug addiction– if someone in your family has dealt with drug addiction, you have a higher risk of it yourself. However, this is only true among blood relatives, such as a parent, grandparent or sibling. Having mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can also make you more susceptible to drug addiction. This is because these disorders may sometimes lead to coping through drugs, alcohol or other substances.

When parents aren’t involved in their children’s lives, or their children simply lack supervision, risk of drug addiction goes up. This is because, not only is it easier for the child to acquire and abuse drugs, but it also promotes difficult family situations and a lack of a bond, which may compel drug use. In some families, drug use is so widespread that children are overlooked, their basic needs of food and shelter forgotten. Aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers may all be unsuitable, from the standpoint of their drug use, to take care of the children.

Social service professionals know that children of addicted parents are at highest risk for drug addiction themselves. Educational professionals also stress that children need support all the way through school, because some parents can’t support their children. Counselors working with therapy groups or in rehab programs know that the whole family has to be involved when one member seeks help. Local law enforcement officers have reported in some families up to three generations of substance abuse have existed.

NC Governor Roy Cooper announced last summer that $1.5 million in grant awards to 12 community partners to implement projects that combat the opioid crisis by advancing the goals of the NC Opioid Action Plan.

The one-time, state-funded grants of up to $150,000 from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services enable partner organizations to implement activities in their community which improve access to harm reduction, treatment and recovery supports.

According to its Sheriff Kevin Frye, Avery County is one of the first in the area to have all road officers and jailers trained in using Narcan to pull people out of an opioid overdose and potentially save their lives. Narcon is a nasal spray used on opioid abusers that counteracts its life-threatening effects from an overdose.

An article published in the Raleigh, NC News and Observer in the fall of 2018 told that drug overdoses in North Carolina surged in 2017 faster than every other state in the nation except one, as potent and cheap fentanyl and its derivatives flooded the state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that 2,323 people in North Carolina died from an overdose of opioids and other drugs in 2017.

The News and Observer story also noted that “A fentanyl analogue is a drug created to imitate the effect of fentanyl. New fentanyl analogues are constantly developed and introduced into the black market. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has estimated there are at least 42 different kinds of fentanyl analogues on the market” as well as “An opioid overdose may involve more than one drug, the CDCP said, and the most common killers, in addition to heroin and fentanyl are morphine, codeine, oxycodone methadone and tramadol.”

The many kinds of fentanyl and the drug’s versatility in being used with other drugs to make them even more toxic has especially contributed to the sad rise in drug deaths in North Carolina. Quoting a March 2018 article in the North Carolina Medical Journal: “In North Carolina, law enforcement is not only seeing heroin cut with fentanyl, but also seeing cocaine and methamphetamine being cut with fentanyl, and bulk fentanyl being sold as heroin. This is especially problematic given the potency of fentanyl when compared to heroin and has led to an increase in overdose deaths across the state. Law enforcement officers project that this trend will continue because of the increasingly varied users and the large number of persons addicted to prescription opioids switching to heroin.”

Addiction is the only prison where the locks are on the inside. Addiction is the disease that makes those afflicted too selfish to see the havoc they created or care about the people whose lives that have shattered. And withdrawal is like having a really, really bad case of the flu, lasting a long time—up to several weeks or even months.

No one is addicted to anything by choice. But by choice, many who are addicted can turn their lives around. Family, friends, neighbors—our community can reach out and help those who choose to follow a path to recovery.

Know someone who needs help fighting drug abuse? First, let him or her know you care and offer support and help in any way needed. Refer them to those who can help them such as church pastors, other ministers, health professionals and school counselor and advisors. There are several meetings to combat opioid and other kinds of drug abuse held in various places in Avery County every week. Anyone who has a drug abuse problem or has recovered from one as well as their family members and all others interested, are urged to attend these meetings:

Al Anon:

6 p.m. Monday, Newland Presbyterian Church

11 a.m. Saturday, Banner Elk Methodist Church

Alcoholics Anonymous:

7 p.m. Tuesday and Friday, Sloop Medical Building, Oak Room, Linville

8 p.m. Sunday, Pine Grove Methodist Church, Ingalls

7 p.m Monday, Banner Elk Methodist Church

7 p.m. Thursday, Church of the Savior, Newland

Recovery in the High Country meetings

10:30 a.m. Saturday, Avery Cares Building, Newland

Celebrate Recovery

6 p.m. Sunday, Heaton Christian Church, Heaton

Phone (828) 528-5476 for more details about this Celebrate Recovery program.

Additional help for drug abusers and their families may be obtained by calling the following organizations:

Daymark Recovery Services, Newland, 733-5889

Daymark Mobile Crisis (866) 276-9552

Vaya Health 1-800-849-6127

Avery County Health Department (828) 733-6031

High Country Community Health, Newland (828) 737-0221

Avery Cares (828) 733-0925

Hebron Colony (828) 963-4842

Cannon Hospital Emergency Department, Linville (828) 737-7000

Appalachian Regional Outpatient Behavioral Health (828) 737-7888

6-county AA hotline (Boone) (828) 264-1212

National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)