Alcohol and illicit drug use in Greenville and the Eastern North Carolina area has risen in recent years and continues to lead to fatal overdoses.
Executive Director of The Pitt County Coalition on Substance Use Lillie Malpass said opioids are widely abused in Pitt County and the state of North Carolina.
The increasing amount of fentanyl being sold contributes to a large majority of opioid overdoses, and Malpass said fentanyl is more potent than most other opioids.
“It can be a very dangerous situation,” Malpass said. “A lot of people don’t know when they are taking fentanyl. It’s very important to call 911 and EMS when an overdose is happening because you never know what someone has in their system”
It is good for communities like college campuses to reduce the stigma associated with drug and alcohol misuse, Malpass said, and victims of addiction should know that it is not a moral failing to suffer from a medical condition.
Pitt County and the Sheriff’s Department have been pushing several programs to make the county a safer place in terms of drug abuse, Malpass said. For example, Malpass said the Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program allows inmates in the Pitt County Detention Center to recover from addiction before returning to public life.
“Getting things into the community that the community needs is very important,” Malpass said. “Everyone is really trying to keep the area safe.”
Press Assistant at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Summer Tonizzo said NC saw a 22% increase in overdose deaths in 2021.
The NCDHHS facilitates a wide range of harm-reduction programs to decrease the amount of drug-related deaths in the state, Tonizzo said. These programs include the distribution of clean syringes and naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, Tonizzo said
“For overdose prevention, harm reduction recognizes a range of drug use practices and promotes ways for people to manage their drug use with a variety of support options,” Tonizzo said.
The four primary focuses of the NCDHHS currently are to center equity and lived experiences by acknowledging systems that result in disproportionate harm to marginalized people, prevent future addiction by supporting families, reduce harm by addressing more drugs than opioids and to connect patients to care by increasing access to treatment, Tonizzo said.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was launched in July 2022, and it is available for those suffering substance use crises, Tonizzo said. The line is available 24 hours, she said, with direct access to crisis counselors.
“People can call or text 988 or chat for themselves or if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support,” Tonizzo said. “The lifeline is free and confidential.”
President of ECU’s chapter of Team Awareness Combatting Overdose Casey Lens said communities should take a non-judgemental approach to solving drug misuse.
Fentanyl-laced drugs have surged drastically across the country, Lens said. Combining drugs, especially ones as potent as fentanyl, can have unpredictable effects, Lens said, and nine out of 10 overdoses are caused by combining two or more drugs.
“This statistic targets the college population because many students are experimenting and mixing alcohol with certain drugs, not realizing what the effects can do to their body and mind,” Lens said.
‘Just say no’ anti-drug use campaigns have been largely ineffective in reducing drug misuse and overdoses, Lens said, and it is more important to have a message that is not built around the shaming of people who are suffering from addiction.
Lens said ECU’s Good Samaritan Regulation is a protection that allows students to seek help in alcohol or drug-related emergencies without fear of legal repercussions.
“This law protects students’ lives, and inevitably, it protects the person that might be overdosing or alcohol poisoning and needs help,” Lens said.
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