Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
Full Circle Recovery Center celebrated its grand re-opening on Wednesday, Feb. 24. That day is significant because it is also International Family Drug Support Day (FDS). International FDS day first started in 2016 to draw attention to the importance of families affected by alcohol and/or drugs and the benefits of supporting families. The International Family Drug Support Day is set on the date of the passing of 23-year-old Australian Damien Trimingham from a drug related overdose. The day has become an annual event to highlight the need for families to not only be recognized and heard but to be supported and encouraged to speak about their concerns and their needs.
At Full Circle, Executive Director Stephanie Almeida hosted a drop-in event, whereby folks were able to stop by and get some coffee or tea and finger foods, and watch volunteers assemble 3,000 naloxone overdose reversal kits. These kits are available to drug users and their families. The recovery center had recently undergone a renovation, adding new space to house Smoky Mountain Harm Reduction’s (SMHR) new drop-in center and their new HIV/Hepatitis C testing room. SMHR is a peer-led nonprofit that provides substance use harm reduction, prevention, treatment and recovery support services to folks in Western North Carolina. It became an official nonprofit in October 2019.
This year’s theme for International FDS is “Family Connection not Tough Love.” On this day, an alliance of community organizations is speaking out against drug dependence stigma and pointing out the futility of “tough love” approaches to drug use. The group is calling for a greater focus on harm reduction services which recognize that drug dependence is a health issue.
A news release on the International FDS Day website explains the reasoning behind this year’s theme of Family Drug Support Day:
“‘Tough love’ denies that drug dependence is a health problem, seeing it as an issue of will and choice,” said Yarra Drug and Health Forum Executive Officer, Bernadette Burchell.
“The idea that we need to let people hit rock bottom before they can start to recover is nonsensical. In the case of drug use, hitting rock bottom means death or brain damage, and there’s no recovery from that point,” she said.
“Harm reduction services such as needle exchange programs, Naloxone training, medically supervising injecting rooms and drug education help people to stay alive, and stay as healthy as possible while they are using drugs,” said Burchell.
“The shame and stigma associated with drug use delays people seeking help, leading to worsening health issues, and pushing them to the margins of society.”
Debbie Warner, whose son battled heroin dependence for a decade, said, “I realized that I needed to approach my son’s drug use just like I would if he had any chronic illness, because addiction is a health issue,” said Warner.
“I turned my thinking from ‘how can I get my child off drugs’ to ‘how can I keep my child safe and well while they are drug dependent?’”
“I helped connect him to places where he could get sterile needles, I made sure I always had Naloxone in our house and knew how to use it, I found a GP who gave non-judgmental advice about avoiding Hepatitis C, preventing abscesses, and avoiding overdose,” she said.
Drug forum officer, Sam Biondo, said, “The harm reduction approach eases the stigma attached to drug dependence, and keeps people within arm’s reach, which gives them the best chance of staying alive, and connecting to treatment and recovery if and when they’re ready.”
What it looks like in North Carolina
According to North Carolina Health News, 41 N.C. counties classified as “high risk” in a new opioid study. Counties were deemed “high risk” if they had a higher than the national rate of 12.5 opioid related deaths per 100,000 people, and lower than the rate of 9.7 providers of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, for opioid use disorders. Macon County fits that profile. The North Carolina Division of Public Health reports that from 2014-2018 the rate of unintentional medication/drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in Macon County was 18.6% compared to the statewide 16.7% whereas 5 -9 is low and 22-34 is high. The rate of unintentional opioid overdose deaths for Macon was 11.0% with the state statistic at 13.6% whereas 3-8 is low and 20 -30 is high. This information is part of the Vital Registry System of the State Center for Health.
Smoky Mountain Harm Reduction offers opioid overdose prevention and survival help. Signs of
an overdose include: no breathing, turning blue, deep snoring; vomiting, gasping, and gurgling.
Home remedies do not work to reverse opiate and opioid based overdoses such as a cold shower, letting them sleep it off, giving someone coffee and making them walk around, injecting them with anything other than naloxone (salt water, milk, other drugs). The only viable option when someone is experiencing an opiate overdose is to initiate rescue breathing, administer naloxone and seek medical assistance.
As of April 2013, a person who seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose cannot be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of drugs, possession of paraphernalia, or underage drinking if evidence for the charge was obtained as a result of the person seeking help. The victim is protected from these charges, as well. Also, as of August 2015, a person who seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose cannot be considered in violation of a condition of parole, probation, or post release, even if that person was arrested. The victim is also protected. The caller must provide his/her name to 911 or law enforcement to qualify for immunity.
If you or a loved one is experienced issues due to drug use, call Full Circle Recovery at 828-475-1920 to find out what the available options are for your situation. In case of an emergency, always call 911 first.