Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
Saturday, Aug. 31, was International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event to remember those who have been lost to addiction and overdose, and to fight for measures that would help alleviate the overdose epidemic. The 6th Annual Night of Hope took place in Franklin at the recreation park pavilion. The Night of Hope is a chance for the community to come together to celebrate the lives of those in recovery, pray for those who are struggling, and remember loved ones lost from addiction and overdose. The event featured a free meal with refreshments, free t-shirts, a memorial ceremony and testimonies, as well as free overdose reversal kits with naloxone.
The Night of Hope was sponsored by the Macon Overdose Prevention Coalition, including Full Circle Recovery Center, Families for Sensible Drug Policy, the Macon County Department of Public Health, and WNCAP.
Opioid crisis by the numbers
Of the 61,311 preventable drug overdoses in the country in 2017, more than 43,000 involved opioids. Provisional data released in July by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that drug overdose deaths have dropped for the first time since 1990. Between the 12-month period ending December 2017 and the 12-month period ending December 2018, there was a 5.1% decline in overdose deaths, dropping from 72,000 overdose deaths to 68,000. Robert N. Anderson, PhD, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch of the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, said that the data suggests the epidemic had reached its peak in the United States. That said, the number of deaths for 2018 is still predicted to be nearly 70,000,” he added. “That is a lot of people dying much too young. Even if the decline holds once the data is final, it is too soon to declare victory.” But while the nation as a whole is headed toward a drop in overdose deaths, not all states are seeing decreases. Missouri and Rhode Island experienced the biggest increases in overdose deaths between the 12-month period ending December 2017 and the 12-month period ending December 2018 (16.3% and 16.7% respectively). In Missouri, drug overdose deaths increased from 1406 to 1635 and from 342 to 399 in Rhode Island. Other states that saw increases include California, South Carolina, Vermont, Louisiana, and Arizona. CDC data released this week revealed geographic shifts in where the epidemic is having the biggest impact. In 2016 and 2017, urban counties saw higher drug overdose death rates compared with rural areas (22.0 vs 20.0 per 100,000, respectively). These increased rates were seen across overdose deaths involving heroin (5.2 vs 2.9), synthetic opioids other than methadone (9.3 vs 7.0), and cocaine (4.6 vs 2.4).
Several organizations at the Night of Hope offered information regarding opioid use and mental illness awareness. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) was one such vendor at the event. They were there trying to raise awareness regarding the Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Appalachian South division of NAMI holds meetings at First United Methodist Church. Their mission is to ensure the dignity and improve the lives of those who live with mental illness and their families through support. In many cases, individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum may be less inclined to use substances as a result of social avoidance tendencies. An important factor is exposure. People with autism who try substances may have a higher likelihood of becoming addicted because of the tendency toward social avoidance. When the stress of dealing with others in a social setting rises to the level that it commonly does with autism, it makes sense that adding substances could be risky. When substances are utilized to manage difficult situations, the likelihood of addiction increases.
In trying to raise awareness regarding Autism one boy who is on the spectrum stated “Autism, it’s not a processing error; it’s a different operating system.”
Autism Spectrum Disorder was just one of the highlighted disorders being discussed that evening. When a person suffers from a mental illness and is also addicted or abusing drugs they are labeled “dually diagnosed.” Dual diagnosis (also referred to as co-occurring disorders) is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously. According to a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.9 million people in the U.S. experience both a mental disorder and substance use disorder simultaneously. Mental disorders range from and include, depression, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Postpartum Depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and the list goes on and on. Often times, these folks are simply “self medicating” due to the stress that the disorder creates in their life. Unfortunately, self medicating in the opioid world leads to addiction.
Diseases associated with drug use
Along with the issues of being addicted to opioids, several health risks are involved. Hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) are the most common viral hepatitis infections transmitted through the sometimes risky behaviors by people who use drugs — particularly among people who inject drugs. Sharing a needle or syringe to inject any substance (including steroids, hormones or silicone) puts users at risk of HIV and other infections found in the blood, like hepatitis C. Users are at risk whether injecting under the skin only or directly into the bloodstream.
Sharing needles and syringes is not the only risk. Sharing water to clean injecting equipment, reusing containers to dissolve drugs, and reusing filters can also transmit HIV.
The Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP) offers a syringe exchange program (SEP) to provide preventive healthcare for people who use drugs offering sterile syringes and disposable services to prevent sharing and reuse of syringes and other supplies. SEPs are effective at preventing HIV and hepatitis C infections and at connecting people with these conditions with treatment and care. SEPs are purposefully structured to serve people who use drugs and to reduce barriers to services, care, and support. The syringe exchange in Franklin is located next to Full Circle Recovery Center on 3257 Georgia Road. The program is run by Claudia Mattheiss. This program also offers help with clothing, tents, sleeping bags and blankets for the homeless. Those in need can also get a free cup of coffee, water, noodles to get warm, canned food, medical supplies and wound care.
Aside from information at the Night of Hope event, Hepatitis C and HIV testing was available to anyone who felt they might be at risk of these diseases. Results were given in minutes with instructions on how to follow up at the local health department or their primary doctor, along with resources to help locate treatment options.
Stephanie Almeida runs Full Circle Recovery Center and was the facilitator at this year’s Night of Hope Event. She spoke about “harm reduction” and ways of preventing illness and death from opioid use. During the event Almeida demonstrated the proper use of Naloxone/Narcan, a medication that can be administered to someone if they are showing signs of overdose. There are many facets to the harm reduction program and the use of Naloxone/Narcan is just one.
A mother’ s story
Tammy Kimmel lost her daughter, Lindsay, to a drug overdose 14 months ago. Lindsay was 36 years old and started using prescription opioids after a car accident when she was 20 years old left her with unmanageable pain. A bit after that she had to have her wisdom teeth taken out and was given opioids for the dental pain. That led her to experiment and dabble with illegal drugs. Lindsay struggled with Bipolar disorder and at one time was given at least eight psychotropic drugs to help manage her condition. Kimmel felt that she had been given way too many prescriptions which didn’t help her condition or addiction at all. Lindsay lived in Ohio with her father so her mother did not get to see her very often although they spoke on the phone as much as possible. Ohio had just voted to expand medicaid so Lindsay felt that living there was better for her with the range of healthcare she could get.
“There is such a stigma with mental illness and drugs,” said Kimmel. “You must be vigilant with educating yourself and your loved one who is battling addiction and seek out all available resources to counter the stigma.”
Toward the end of her life Lindsay became very ill with edema and could not really go outdoors. Her mother had wanted her to come back to North Carolina but she told her mother that she was in so much pain that she would not be able to get there. She also told her mother that she could not get to a doctor due to the pain. Lindsay was found dead in her home, from an apparent overdose of heroin. Her death is being investigated due to the fact that since Lindsay was not able to go out, the illegal drugs and paraphernalia had to be delivered to her.
Kimmel carries Naloxone on her at all times. She received a phone call from a friend who knew she carried it, wanting help for an addict who had overdosed. Kimmel went right out to the friend to help deliver the Naloxone. When she arrived, police officers were there and they were treating the person who overdosed like a criminal.
Kimmel recalls, “The police had no respect for the ‘Good Samaritan Law.’”
The Good Samaritan laws offer legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are, or whom they believe to be, injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated.
“They threatened to put me in jail if I interfered,” she said.