By Tessie Castillo, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)
On March 2, 2017 the North Carolina General Assembly introduced the STOP Act (H243/S175) to curb the over-prescribing of opioids. Drug overdose death has increased rapidly in recent years with many people becoming addicted to physician-prescribed pain medication and later switching to cheaper alternatives, such as heroin or illicit fentanyl. Every day four North Carolinians die of drug-induced overdose and four times that amount are hospitalized. A summary of the bill is available here.
Among supporters of the STOP Act are parents across North Carolina who have a teenage or young adult child currently struggling with opioid addiction. Many of these parents have already lost a child to opioids.
Sandy Tabor-Gray of Mooresville, North Carolina, lost her 22-year-old son, Michael, a father of twins, to a drug overdose in 2013. In eighth grade he had started stealing pills from his parents’ medicine cabinet and his addiction progressed from there.
“One weekend in July when he came home we spent the whole day together as a family playing with the kids, going to the movies and out to dinner,” Sandy recalls. “That night, he hugged me and kissed me goodnight and told me he loved me – as he always does. The next morning the twins woke early and of course were calling for their dad. We walked into his room calling his name, but he didn’t answer. I walked over to the bed to shake him and he was cold. Life as I knew it, shattered.”
Other mothers such as Trinlie Yeaman are hopeful about the provision of the STOP Act that provides funding for drug treatment programs. Trinlie struggled to get help for her teenage daughter, Zoe, who became addicted at 16 years old after getting prescription painkillers from a boyfriend whose father had cancer.
“The only available treatment facility for minors under 18 charged $40,000 for a 60-day inpatient treatment program,” says Trinlie. “When Zoe turned 18, she was put on a waiting list for treatment. On August 6, 2014, I received a call from Zoe’s father that she had overdosed and died. Three hours after she died, the drug treatment facility called to say they had a bed available.”
Not all stories of opioid addiction end in death. Twenty-year-old Ethan Buck, a Greenville NC resident, started his addiction at 12 years old after experimenting with pills from his mother’s medicine cabinet. By eighteen years old he was using heroin and by nineteen he was homeless, sleeping in a Walmart parking lot. After that he made the decision to seek treatment and is currently living drug free, pursuing a degree in social work.
The STOP Act is sponsored and co-sponsored by bipartisan group of legislators and supported by officials such as the state Attorney General.
“I strongly support this legislation,” says Attorney General Josh Stein. “It took us 15-20 years to get into this crisis and reversing it won’t happen overnight. But a commonsense approach to prescribing and dispensing these highly addictive drugs, paired with an emphasis on increasing treatment and recovery for those currently dealing with addiction, is a good start. I look forward to partnering with law enforcement, policymakers, health care providers, public and mental health experts and advocates to fight this opioid epidemic.”
For stories of parents and survivors of opioids in your area, contact Tessie Castillo at 919.809.7718 or email.