Laura Cleveland’s traumatic overdose urged her to confront her opioid drug disorder and find a solution.
“I took an overdose one night of about 14 pills. As I was in the emergency room with my husband, and my children came in, the look on their faces, that scared look of ‘Is mom going to be OK,’” Cleveland said.
Cleveland, 46, said her dependence on opioids began when a doctor prescribed her opioids to relieve the pain from chronic migraines almost 30 years ago.
“After exhausting a lengthy list of actual migraine medicines, my neurologist at the time put me on Percocet. When I first started on this medicine, my life was normal, everyday stuff. I only took it when I had a severe migraine,” said Cleveland, an Iron Station resident.
She said she does not remember when her use of Percocet became a drug disorder. It was only when she overdosed that she became aware of the gravity of her problems and sought help for them, said Cleveland, a daycare provider.
“I decided right there that I was done. I spent a week in a mental hospital. When I came out, I did hold onto my pills for a bit. I did take about six pills within a six month period when I had a bad migraine. After that, I just quit,” Cleveland said.
The opioid crisis began in the early 1990s and involves the misuse and or abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Eric Boyce, assistant vice chancellor for public safety at UNC Asheville, said many people turned from prescription painkillers to heroin because of the lower price. With an influx of heroin users, makers began using fentanyl as a cutting agent, which increases the potency of the drug.
“The epidemic has come with a number of overdoses and deaths because of the fentanyl. It’s not the heroin, per say, in its pure form or with what it would normally be cut with, but the fentanyl that makes it extremely dangerous,” Boyce said.
The impact of the opioid crisis extends past the user of opioid drugs. According to Boyce, everyone feels the effects of opioid abuse in some way.
“It impacts all of us in some form because we have family members, friends, classmates and people we may work with, that may be affected by this. The people it impacts the most are the actual users and those people who are closest to the users,” Boyce said.
Boyce said community education and support for those with drug disorders must be a priority to stop the continuation of the opioid crisis in America.
“As with anything, ‘just say no,’ kind of the Nancy Reagan campaign, is ineffective. Educating folks and making folks aware of the pitfalls and downfalls of addiction and then offering resources to those who are ready and willing to enter that recovery,” Boyce said.
Treating someone with addiction poorly or trying to make them change does not necessarily work, according to Boyce. He said compassion and support are the best ways to help those trying to stop their drug disorder.
“The last thing anybody wants to hear is a lecture from anybody. Those are appropriate sometimes coming from the right people, but support is always appropriate and letting people know that you’re there to help when they’re ready to receive that,” Boyce said.
Dora Tovar, a junior political science student, works for Peers Educating Peers and Advancing Health as a campus opioid educator. She takes a harm reduction approach to teaching people about the opioid crisis.
“We just want to reduce the harm, we aren’t trying to end it. I think a lot of people typically just want to end the problem but you can’t do that because it will just cause problems, just giving people the basic information and knowledge that there is support,” Tovar said.
Tovar, 19, said UNCA offers many resources for students who want to learn about opioids or get help with their addiction, such as a substance abuse counselor at the Health and Counseling Center and tabling events around campus.
Students can help by educating themselves and being there nonjudgmentally for those who are ready to start their recovery process, according to the political science student.
“Good people find themselves in bad circumstances and so we just have to learn not to judge and show some compassion. If you are walking that path where you want to be helpful to others, have a little mercy and show your fellow man that you may not understand their plight but you are there to help,” Boyce said.