Every day in Caldwell County someone somewhere struggles from the impact of substance use. Lives of those who use, his or her family and friends all changed by substance use disorder and addiction. Many families and friends suffer silently wondering if they can save their loved one or if they’ll be facing their loved one’s overdose.
“Addiction is a disease process, and if we don’t treat it as a disease, we’re going to continue to lose people over and over,” said RESTART Coordinator Jason Powell.
According to a report from the NCDETECT, Caldwell County ranked among the top 10 both in overdose emergency department visits and opioid overdose visits.
Between July 2022 and June 2023, 227 overdoses were reported, a 276% increase over the previous year. During the same time period, 146 opioid overdoses were reported, a 178% increase.
To shine a light on those suffering and to remember those lost to overdose, Caldwell County RESTART, a post overdose response team who works to provide resources and support recovery to those with substance abuse disorders, hosted an International Overdose Awareness event.
Speakers shared their storied about the impact of overdose on their families. Caldwell County Commissioner Donnie Potter spoke about his stepson, Clint, who lost his life to overdose earlier this year.
Potter described Clint as a great kid who worked hard, but who struggled with substance abuse disorder since his late teens. Clint was hooked on oxytocin then about 10 years ago, he turned to heroin. Last year, he was arrested for selling fentanyl to an undercover police officer in Rockingham County.
After three months in jail, Clint went to rehab and was doing great. However, the rehab facility did not tell Clint or his family about when he would be released. When the time came for his treatment to end, rehab facility staff took Clint back to the same drug house, where he lived before his arrest. Not long after, Clint died alone from an overdose.
“We must find a way to fix the gap post-rehab. That gap is killing our loved ones. When you send them back home that’s when the failure happens,” explained Potter.
Keisha Emerson lost her brother to overdose. She described how he died on what she called a normal Monday that ended with planning her brother’s funeral. She talked about how she had journeyed with her brother as he struggled with substance abuse disorder.
“If love alone could have saved those who have passed away, we wouldn’t be here in this room. There’s no amount of love that’s ever going to be enough to save them,” said Emerson. “I was there for nearly every moment of my brother’s life – the good and the bad, the highest highs and the lowest lows, and if love alone could have saved him, he would be here today.”
Emerson spoke about the impact on her family and the importance of sharing her story.
“Addiction is a family disease. The symptoms, the pain, and the suffering, they move effortlessly and fluidly through all of those who love the addict. When they cry, we cry. When they rejoice, we rejoice. We suffer as they suffer. And when they die, we die with them,” Emerson said. “But I can’t and I won’t live in shame. I’m proud of my brother. I will honor his strength even in death and I will continue to tell his story to spread the message to families and others struggling with addiction that they are not alone.”
While most of the event featured families whose loved ones succumbed to overdose, Jaclyn Tester, who is now in recovery, shared her story of surviving overdose.
“I made the choice to get high one last time. I had no thoughts of trying to kill myself, but I woke up to paramedics reviving me,” said Tester.
When she arrived at the hospital RESTART Peer Support Specialists Ryan Carver and Jenna Hamby were there to advocate for her and stayed with her until late in the evening.
“I am truly grateful God put those people in my life that night, so I could grow and learn to live a life without drugs,” said Tester.
While families continue to grieve their loved ones, the evening was also about encouraging others and giving hope to those suffering with substance abuse disorder.
“We cannot take away the hope. We cannot treat people like addicts. We must send a message that these so-called addicts are our family members, they are someone’s son or daughter. They are someone’s best friend,” said Potter. “It’s our job not to let our family member’s life be in vain. We must stand up and tell people our stories. Don’t be ashamed of it. We need to go out and help others.”