Drug Overdose Awareness Day: Stopping the cycle of addiction before it takes a life

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) August 31 marks International Drug Overdose Awareness Day, which aims to spread the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.

Amid a global pandemic, COVID-19 is not the only thing health officials are worried about. The United States is still caught in the grip of a drug epidemic.

With drug use on the rise, overdoses are too.

“The thing that is really unfortunate with the COVID pandemic is we have seen about a 30 percent increase in overdoses statewide,” said Jilian Reece, director of Carter County Drug Prevention.

Things like isolation and increased anxiety are leading to higher drug use and relapse for those working toward recovery.

“Hopefully as COVID starts letting up if it does we can start hitting a downward trend,” says Sherry Barnett with the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition. “For right now it’s a fight that is never ending and the numbers keep going up.”

Barnett serves as the region’s overdose prevention specialist. Six years sober from her own addiction, her every day fight is now shifted to helping others find recovery.

“I need people to know that we do recover and that we do lead productive lives,” said Barnett.

Just this month for Sullivan County alone, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports 97 overdoses since March 1, with 22 deaths. They average one overdose per week.

“Everybody has value. Every person with substance abuse disorder, every person deserves to find recovery. The only thing we don’t recover from is death,” said Barnett.

Throughout Northeast Tennessee Barnett works with other organizations to distribute around 1000 Narcan Naloxone kits every month; a drug that reverses an opioid overdose. She says community access to Narcan is crucial.

“We even teach high school kids and adolescents how to use Narcan. Because we know most middle and high schools kids are more aware of their parents addiction or grandparents addiction than other individuals are,” said Barnett.

Reece added that stopping overdose deaths starts with education and a conversation, to help reduce the stigma.

“We know that just changing the community norm to where we can talk about substance abuse and talk about mental health challenges, really encouraging people to go get help, that’s what they need. The chance of overdosing is much lower if people are willing to reach out for help,” said Reece.

Some resources available for those struggling with addiction:

Events happening Monday to mark Overdose Awareness Day:

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