My son, Drew, passed away on July 31, 2015. It was a Friday. He was 21. Although 20 months have passed, I can still hear the words of the police officers who showed up at our door steps to relay the news; when I shut my eyes, I can see them, the look on their faces falling somewhere in the middle of sympathetic and stoic. I wonder how many door steps it took for them to master this calculated expression. As they spoke, I kept thinking, “this isn’t supposed to happen ... tragedy isn’t supposed to happen to my family …”
Drew began wrestling his freshman year of high school. As a novice to the sport, his wrestling record his freshman year was 1-21; his one win was a forfeit. Yet, he was determined to improve and dedicated to advancing his skills. By his junior year, he was team captain with a 21-2 record with hopes to go to states. Wrestling became the arena in which he was the team star. At the beginning of his senior year, Drew suffered a shoulder injury, and although he tried to continue competing, his injury was too severe. No longer a wrestler, he lost his confidence and his identity.
He was prescribed opiates to manage his shoulder pain, and, due to the addictive nature of these drugs, developed an opioid use disorder. After his prescription ran out, he began to seek opiates in other ways, through searching our medicine cabinets and the cabinets of friends. Eventually, he transitioned to using heroin, as it is cheaper and easier to access. Three years and countless treatment facilities later, he suffered a fatal overdose due to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to heroin but, according to the Center for Disease Control, is 50 times more potent.
I am still learning how to navigate in a world where my son no longer lives. However, his death is not an anomaly. In the past year and a half, my husband and I have attended seven funerals due to opioid overdoses. I have hugged, comforted, and grieved alongside seven other mothers who lost their children to this disease. The opioid epidemic has hit our state hard. In 2015 alone, over 1,500 North Carolinians suffered drug overdose deaths, and our state was one of the 19 states that saw an increase in the percentage of overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015. These deaths are preventable.
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Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act, to save the lives of the individuals they were put in office to protect.
The STOP Act takes the humane, comprehensive and evidence-based approach we need when it comes to drug policy. By mandating smarter regulations for prescribing and dispensing controlled substances, such as enforcing the use of a Controlled Substance Reporting System to reduce the act of doctor shopping and placing restrictions on the amount a health-care professional can prescribe for acute pain, we can mitigate the pattern of opioid over-prescribing that has served as the catalyst for this epidemic.
The STOP Act also appropriates the funding needed to improve local community-based treatment services so that those struggling with substance use disorders can access the resources they need to recover. Additionally, it facilitates wider distribution of naloxone, an easily administered and extremely effective overdose-reversal drug so that individuals at risk, their families, our local law enforcement, and our community health groups have access to the life-saving antidote.
Our state needs to implement the STOP Act; the lives of North Carolinians depend on our legislators voting to pass the bill. We also need to appropriate funds to make naloxone available to people at risk for overdose and their loved ones, as well as law enforcement and first responders. We cannot continue to see our overdose death toll increase, valuable lives lost, and families left to grieve the tragedy of losing their loved one. I urge you to contact your representatives and tell them to pass the STOP Act and appropriate funds for naloxone. We need to stop the preventable deaths of our people.
Marsha Gintis has been a North Carolina resident for almost 30 years. Since losing her son in 2015, she has worked to advocate for a more comprehensive approach to drug policy.