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Spike in overdoses draws attention to dangers of drug use
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Spike in overdoses draws attention to dangers of drug use

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Addiction affected 19.7 million Americans ages 12 and older in 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sometimes, it starts with a tragic event in someone’s life. That was the case for the first woman to participate in Burke County’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.

“I started numbing the pain because I couldn’t function (after my daughter died),” the woman told The News Herald in March 2019. “I couldn’t even go to the grocery store.”

For others, it might start with a night of partying with friends.

Regardless, it’s ruthless: once addiction gets a hold of someone, it’s hard to stop. For some, it can be deadly. Since 2015, there have been 20 overdose deaths in the city of Morganton alone.

The dangers of addiction have become more apparent this week after what appears to be a bad batch of drugs hit the streets and led to a cluster of six overdose calls from Wednesday to Friday across Burke County.

“This is alarming,” said Capt. Jason Whisnant with the Morganton Department of Public Safety.

MDPS has responded to seven overdose calls in 2020.

Three of those calls occurred between Wednesday and Friday of last week.

Narcotics officers are working to determine the source of the drugs. It’s possible they were laced with something like fentanyl, a pain reliever and, when paired with other drugs, anesthetic. If not handled properly, it can be deadly.

“Always be cautious when purchasing substances,” said Kim James, executive director of Burke Recovery. “Lacing is very dangerous because oftentimes the individual does not know the substance they are using has been laced with anything else and tragically the result is typically an overdose, and often death.”

Lacing isn’t uncommon.

“Understanding the prevalence of lacing is key to working with individuals in active use and educating them as to the dangers of use,” James said. “It is of the utmost importance to have Naloxone on hand. If you cannot afford it, there are agencies willing to help.”

Naloxone, sometimes called by the name brand Narcan, is a lifesaving drug that works by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain to restore breathing.

It was used in all of the city’s three overdose calls from Wednesday to Friday. On some patients, it had to be used multiple times to keep them alive until EMS could stabilize them.

In the case of an overdose, it can be the difference between life and death.

“If someone is overdosing, immediately call 911 and tell them what the person has used - this helps EMS and law enforcement determine the best course of action,” James said. “Then administer Naloxone. Fentanyl, which is what we are seeing more and more of - especially in situations where substance lacing has occurred - is an opioid and Naloxone is designed to combat, and reverse opioid overdose.”

And people shouldn’t fear calling 911 in the case of an overdose, even if they also have been using controlled substances or have some on them. North Carolina state law protects people from prosecution in some cases when they call to report an overdose.

“Life safety should be a priority to anyone,” Whisnant said. “The Good Samaritan Law puts in place protection for persons reporting a life-threatening overdose without fear of being charged with possession of small amounts of drugs or paraphernalia.”

For those struggling with addiction, James encourages them to reach out for assistance.

“The first step is to say three words, ‘I need help,’” James said. “Burke Recovery serves as a referral source for individuals who need help and assess them in order to determine the best level of care. If you are struggling, reach out via email, phone or social media and someone will contact you as soon as possible.”

She said people who want a list of resources to have on hand for family and friends also can reach out.

“If there are people who would just like resources to have on hand for their family members or friends with a list of agencies and organizations, the Drug-Free Burke Team at Burke Recovery can get those delivered or have them available for pick up,” James said.

Learn more about Burke Recovery at www.burkerecovery.com or by calling 828-433-1221.

Chrissy Murphy is a staff writer and can be reached at cmurphy@morganton.com or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.

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