BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Wednesday is International Overdose Awareness Day, and advocates in our community are working to prevent people from starting drugs and help others find recovery.

Advocates with the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition say anyone is susceptible to overdose. Whether it’s through abuse of prescription drugs or laced recreational drugs, overdose and addiction don’t have a face. Though they do say certain factors can make people more susceptible.

“It changes the brain, that substance changes the brain, and it kills your own dopamine response,” said Alice McCaffrey, Director of Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition. “So things that may have made you satisfied, happy, excited — that doesn’t happen naturally anymore.”

McCaffrey said people need to understand is a health concern, not a choice and that it can impact anyone in the community.

“So many people came to it because of a medical condition that they had,” said McCaffrey. “There are people who have had such terrible childhoods. We call them adverse childhood experiences. And they’re just so much more susceptible to starting to cover all of the pain with substances.”

McCaffrey said they have seen an increase in overdose and drug use in the community in recent years.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health in 2020, there were 3,032 drug overdose deaths in the state. 60 of those were in Sullivan County alone.

The coalition offers prevention programs to keep teens from trying drugs. Educating parents and teens about the risks of drugs and fentanyl.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl can increase the risk of overdose especially if someone is unaware they’re taking it. It can take multiple doses of naloxone to reverse an overdose if the fentanyl is very potent.

“It only takes the equivalent of a couple of grains of salt to kill somebody,” said McCaffrey. “Or at least to have that overdose if they don’t have the Narcan available or enough Narcan available.”

Beyond prevention, the coalition offers three intervention programs and works to pair people with Certified Peer Recovery Specialists (CPRS) who have experience with addiction and recovery themselves.

“I had been an active addiction for about 10 years, sometimes on and off, I finally got to a really low point in my life and decided to start asking for help,” said Stephanie Myers, CPRS at Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition.

Myers now uses her experience to guide people through recovery.

“That experience helps cultivate this connectedness,” said Myers. “And when we start to feel that connectedness with one another, that helps build that support system and gets us kind of farther away from that lifestyle of, you know, substance abuse.”

Myers said she wants to help break down the stereotypes about addiction and said the community can help starting with how they speak about it.

“A lot of people turn their nose up to people who are addicts, because they still believe it’s a choice,” said Myers. “And I would encourage people to try to understand do their own research, like addiction is not a choice.”

McCaffrey encourages anyone who has a loved one who struggles with addiction to keep naloxone on hand.
You can order a kit from their website.