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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Spike in fentanyl deaths prompt concerns in the Asheville community

Bryson Tucker

Contributor Writer

[email protected]

Photo By Xander Lord
APD Deputy Public Information Officer Lindsay Regner poses for a photo outside of the Asheville Police Department building.

A series of five fentanyl overdoses within two days reported by the Asheville Police Department concerned community leaders.

“I try not to look at it as a losing battle, but things are consistently getting worse,” Colton Parsons, an admissions coordinator for the Asheville Recovery Center, said.

Deputy Public Information Officer for the Asheville Police Department Lindsay Regner said a multifaceted approach must be taken to address the drug problem.

“You might have heard the saying ‘we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,’ and that is absolutely the truth. We work through our investigative processes to follow up on leads that get us to those who are dealing these deadly narcotics. However, we also make sure to provide resources to those who are dealing with substance misuse in their lives,” Regner said.

UNC Asheville Police Chief Eric Boyce said the department has not dealt with any issues of hard drugs on campus this year but has in the past.

“We haven’t had any issues with fentanyl, but it is very important for students to understand that this is an issue happening regionally,” Boyce said. “Evidently there is a large amount of drugs that are laced with fentanyl and it is lethal.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.

In North Carolina, the institute reported 1,783 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in 2018, the most recent reporting year. This number rose from an annual total of less than 200 in 1999 to approaching 2,000 in recent years.

Boyce said the current opioid crisis parallels the crack epidemic of the ‘90s that he witnessed at the beginning of his law enforcement career, but is more lethal.

Boyce said it is crucial for anyone witnessing an overdose to act quickly. All UNCA police officers carry Narcan and are trained to administer it, but acting within five minutes of the start of an overdose is crucial to treat it.

“There is an amnesty law in North Carolina so students who are aware of a potential overdose situation should contact police or emergency medical services immediately,” Boyce said. “There should not be a fear of getting in trouble.”

Health and Counseling Center Director Jay Cutspec said addiction is not a major issue on campus but there is still concern.

“I think we certainly have students who are abusing substances, and I think some of it is age, and some of those students who are abusing substances will certainly move into addiction,” Cutspec said. “Given the fact that we’re sort of integrated into the community, everyone knows where to get whatever drug they want. When I hear those stories in the community I worry that our students will have access to those kinds of drugs or have access to the supplies.”

Cutspec said the Health and Counseling Center provides support for anyone struggling with addiction. The center has a certified addiction counselor and a psychiatrist who can meet with students one-on-one. The center is also involved with a collegiate recovery program.

Given the potential legal implications of addiction, Cutspec said everything that goes through the Health and Counseling Center is confidential.

“The only people that would be aware of any legal issues would be the counselors down here, so we would not contact campus police or the dean of students,” Cutspec said.

Boyce said his department works with the Health and Counseling Center to deal with student addicts. Police refer students to the Center or the Regional Health Alliance, a local resource for those dealing with substance abuse.

“Our priority is getting a student help,” Boyce said.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services started the More Powerful campaign to raise awareness on the state’s opioid crisis.

According to statistics provided by the campaign, five people die of overdoses in the state every day, and more people are dying from overdoses than car crashes.

Parsons, with 10 years of experience in the rehabilitation industry, said the majority of the problem stems from people with underlying issues self-medicating, and prescription drug abuse has only worsened the issue.

The Asheville Recovery Center is a private institution and Parsons said this allows patients to have a more individualized treatment plan.

“In state-funded facilities you are not going to get the same clinical care, but people need to do what is available to them,” Parsons said. “They might not have the medications that we have available and their clinical staff-to-patient ratio will be much larger.”

Parsons said conservative criminology has led to more of a focus on putting people in jail as opposed to getting them help, and money could be diverted away from the criminal justice system and toward helping people get into recovery programs.

According to Boyce, decriminalization of certain drugs for users may be beneficial but only if the regulation industry can be improved.

“The country would benefit from some decriminalization and make it a mental health issue instead of a criminal justice issue,” Boyce said.

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