Fentanyl Awareness Day @ NC General Assembly 5/1/24 fentvic.org

Be Seen ~ Be Heard ~ Be Remembered ~ Save Lives

DateWednesday 5/1/24
10 am press conference (outside) followed by visits with their Representative and Senator.
LocationNorth Carolina Legislative Building
16 West Jones Street
Raleigh NC 27601

Please RSVP to attend the event (optional).

Wake County gets $65 million to fight opioid crisis: How to spend the money?

Over the next 18 years, Wake County will receive $65 million to fight the opioid crisis.

Families who lost loved ones to opioids are helping Wake County plan how to spend millions of dollars to prevent more deaths.

According to Wake County, 219 people died from overdoses in the county in 2022, the last full year of recorded data. That’s one person every 40 hours.

Data from the Raleigh Police Department shows 103 of those deaths — nearly half — occurred in Raleigh, making 2022 the city’s most deadly year on record since police began tracking drug overdoses in 2015.

Over the next 18 years, Wake County will receive $65 million as part of a $50 billion nationwide settlement that forces drugmakers and distributors to pay for their part in the opioid epidemic.

On Friday, Wake County leaders asked for the community’s input on how to best use the money.

Wake County’s Opioid Settlement Community met Friday inside the McKimmon Center at North Carolina State University. The committee brought together more than 100 people, including families who’ve lost loved ones to the opioid crisis.

Cheryl Stallings, a Wake County commissioner, said the county has already received about $4.85 million.

“This is significant, and this is historical,” Stallings said. “We really want to use these funds wisely, and we think one of the best ways to do that is to plan with as many people as involved as how we want to use those funds moving forward.”

The funds have helped expand treatment for people with opioid use disorder and provided resources for survivors of an overdose.

Now, Wake County must create a plan to spend more settlement funds over the next two years.

“We have these funds that can actually do something in stopping that trend and building an infrastructure of health and well being for our community moving forward,” Stallings said.

Cary resident Barb Walsh said moving forward is how she honors her daughter, Sophia, who died of fentanyl poisoning in 2021.

“She stopped at an acquaintance’s house and grabbed a bottle of water, and in that bottle of water was diluted fentanyl,” Walsh said.

Walsh now runs the nonprofit Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina to help shape the response to the opioid crisis in Wake County.

“These folks are compassionate,” Walsh said. “They’re committed to saving lives, and so am I.”

Walsh said she hopes there can be easier access to the drugs Naloxone or Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose.

Wake County is currently trying to expand where people can get the life-saving drugs, including working with the Wake County Public School System to make Narcan available on all campuses.

Families of overdose victims join Wake County opioid settlement talks

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Wake County wants the community’s input on how to spend more than $65 million. The county will receive the money over the next 18 years as part of a national opioid settlement.

The county says it wants people directly impacted by the opioid epidemic to help make these decisions, and they hosted a community meeting Friday, bringing together several different groups sharing their stories.

“She died immediately. Naloxone was not administered and 911 was not called,” said Barb Walsh, executive director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of NC.

In August 2021, Walsh’s daughter Sophia was 24, applying to grad school and getting ready to buy a house, but one day, she stopped at an acquaintance’s house.

“She grabbed a water bottle out of the fridge,” Walsh said.

Walsh said the bottle had fentanyl in it, killing her daughter.

“You go into a black hole when your child dies,” Walsh said.

Walsh now runs the Fentanyl Victims Network of NC, which helps support families like hers.

She joined nearly 150 people at Wake County’s community meeting Friday to discuss how the county should spend money from the national opioid settlement.

“This will really help us define how to make these investments over the next two years,” said Alyssa Kitlas, Wake County’s opioid settlement program manager.

Overdose deaths in Wake County have increased since 2019. In 2021, state health records show 240 people died of of an overdose.

“We’d like to slow that trend and really support people with their most immediate needs,” Kitlas said.

The county wants to keep investing in treatment, early intervention and housing support.

Other groups, like the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, also want to make sure people with firsthand experience are part of making decisions.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WRAL News website.

Fentanyl deaths rising among NC children


By Jennifer Fernandez

LEXINGTON — On a recent Saturday, family members gathered in a circle at a church here to share stories of loved ones lost to fentanyl.

“Our whole world is turned upside down,” said Michelle, a Forsyth County mother who lost her 19-year-old son to fentanyl poisoning. She didn’t want to use her full name for this story or go into details about his death, as authorities are still investigating.

She doesn’t think her son knew he had taken fentanyl, which has become more common as drug dealers add it to everything from heroin to fake prescription medications

Just a few grains of the highly potent opioid — about 2 milligrams, an amount that’s barely enough to cover the date on a penny — can be fatal. In 2021, fentanyl was involved in 83 percent of fatal medication or drug overdoses in the state, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“If this can happen to him, this can happen to anybody,” said Michelle, who has made it her mission to help educate other parents about the dangers of fentanyl.

She’s not alone in her fight. 

Barbara Walsh, whose Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina organized the recent Lexington meeting, is pushing for North Carolina to require that the opioid reversal drug naloxone be available in all schools. Her 24-year-old daughter died from fentanyl poisoning in 2021 after unknowingly drinking a bottle of water laced with the drug.

The North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force also is looking into the role fentanyl has played in the deaths of not only teens, but young children who likely are getting exposed through trash from illegal substance use left within reach.

“We were floored when we started seeing the deaths of the infants and the toddlers, and that’s really what started our prevention efforts,” said Sandra Bishop-Freeman, the state’s chief toxicologist who works in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The youngest victims

In North Carolina, fentanyl contributed to the deaths of 10 children age 5 or younger in 2022. Just seven years prior, the state recorded only one death in that age group.

For children ages 13 to 17, fentanyl deaths increased from four to 25 in that same time period, according to data shared with Child Fatality Task Force members.

“Having one child or infant death related to fentanyl or other drugs is …, is too much,” Michelle Aurelius, North Carolina’s chief medical examiner, told task force members in November.

During that meeting, Bishop-Freeman read from investigators’ notes about child deaths due to fentanyl poisoning.

The decedent’s mother reported seeing the deceased pick up a baggie and put it in her mouth. 

During the autopsy, a small piece of folded paper was recovered from the baby’s stomach. 

Law enforcement stated there was a plastic bag and loose pills on top of a 4-year-old brother’s bed.

Another report focused on 22 cases in 2021 where a single substance was linked to the child’s death. Pathologists determined that fentanyl was the single substance in 15 of the fatalities. Only one other single substance killed multiple children that year — carbon monoxide, which killed two children. Also that year, fentanyl was one of the substances attributed in six out of seven deaths where pathologists determined more than one substance caused the death.

“These are startling stories to hear. They’re awful stories to hear, but we need to talk about them so we can prevent them,” Aurelius said. “I don’t want to have to do another autopsy on an 8-year-old who … died of (a) fentanyl overdose with (a) fentanyl patch on her skin after she was left alone.”

Counterfeit pills

For older children, fake pills laced with fentanyl are a rising concern.

In 2021, authorities seized 77,000 counterfeit pills in North Carolina alone. Eight in 10 pills contained some fentanyl.

Data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration shows that of the fake pills tested by the agency, seven out of 10 contained potentially lethal doses of fentanyl.

shows four blue pills, two are authentic oxycodone and two are counterfeit pills
Many fake pills are made to look like prescription opioids such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®).

The fake pills have become easier to obtain, with sales taking place online and on social media.

Further evidence of the impact of these fake pills comes from a recent study by the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Officials looked at a sample of 75 toxicology reports from deaths between 2020 and 2022 and compared results to what investigators learned about the deaths. 

The study showed that 50.7 percent of those who died thought they were taking Xanax (an anxiety/depression medication), and 54.7 percent thought they were taking a form of oxycodone (a pain reliever). However, the toxicology reports were most often positive for fentanyl with no traceable amounts of the medications the victims thought they were getting.

Last year, the DEA seized more than 79.4 million fentanyl-laced fake pills in the country, according to a tracker on the agency’s homepage. So far this year, more than 19.8 million pills have been seized nationwide, which is on pace to be one and a half times last year’s number.

Finding solutions

Walsh says the opioid reversal medication naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, should be available in every school. It should be treated like any other emergency item that schools stock, like epinephrine pens for allergic reactions or automated external defibrillators to shock a heart back into rhythm.

Some North Carolina school systems are starting to do that.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is adding naloxone to its first aid kits at every school. Nurses and at least two first responders at each school are to be trained in how to use it.

Wake County Schools, which already allows school resource officers to carry naloxone, may soon follow Charlotte’s lead. District officials plan to recommend that naloxone be placed in every school and a policy be created for staff on training and using it, WRAL-TV reported last week.  

Last school year, school nurses, staff or SROs administered naloxone 21 times on school grounds in the state, according to the annual School Health Services Report Brochure. The year before, it was used 14 times. According to the report, 84 school districts last school year reported having the opioid reversal drug available on school grounds through SROs and 22 through a districtwide program.

As of September last year, eight states have passed laws requiring all public high schools to keep naloxone on site in case of overdoses at the school or a school-sponsored event, according to data compiled by the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association.

Late last year, federal officials encouraged educators to add naloxone to every school building in a letter signed by Rahul Gupta, director for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

Studies show that naloxone access can reduce overdose death rates, that its availability does not lead to increases in youth drug use, and that it causes no harm if used on a person who is not overdosing on opioids,” Gupta and Cardona said in the letter.

They also noted that most states have Good Samaritan Laws that protect bystanders who help someone who is overdosing. North Carolina passed a limited Good Samaritan law in 2013 that permits people who are “acting in good faith” to seek medical help for someone who is overdosing without fear of being prosecuted for possessing small amounts of drugs or drug paraphernalia.

“Our schools are on the frontlines of this epidemic, but our teachers and students can be equipped with tools to save lives,” Gupta and Cardona wrote. 

Limited resources

One of the big frustrations that family members expressed at the Lexington meeting was how long it took for them to learn that fentanyl killed their loved one.

“We didn’t know for six months it was fentanyl,” said Michelle, the Forsyth County mother whose 19-year-old died. “They just said, ‘Your son is gone.’”

The Office of the State Medical Examiner has faced an increasing workload due to the rise in opioid-related deaths while struggling to retain new forensic pathologists who can make tens of thousands of dollars more for doing the same job in neighboring states.

Last year, legislators took steps to address that wage disparity in the budget by adding $2 million in recurring funds for each of the next two fiscal years to help increase the state’s autopsy capacity. 

Lawmakers also added two toxicology positions, however, those jobs were in response to the expected increase in workload due to the new requirement of comprehensive toxicology on all child deaths investigated by a medical examiner. While those new positions will help address that expanded workload, they do not help with the existing work where the department still needs additional positions, the Office of the State Medical Examiner said in an email to NC Health News. The two new jobs have not yet been posted.

One strain on the office is that 45 percent of the workforce is made up of temporary or time-limited employees, “which creates a very unstable workforce,” according to the medical examiner’s office.

The toxicology lab performs more than 36,000 analytical tests each year, performing analysis on 90 percent of medical examiner cases, the office said. On average, the toxicology lab issues reports on about 15,000 cases every year. 

‘Takes your breath away’

That work won’t let up any time soon, as the number of overdose deaths continues at a steady clip in the state.

In January, the medical examiner’s office identified 332 suspected overdose deaths, down from 368 in January 2023. While some will be classified as non-poisoning deaths after further investigation, most will end up being confirmed overdoses, the medical examiner’s office said.

At last week’s meeting of the Child Fatality Task Force, members talked about the difficulty of seeing so many child deaths from overdoses. 

Pediatrician Martin McCaffrey told the task force that the child fatality review committee he is on just reviewed three infant/toddler fentanyl overdoses. Jill Scott, president and CEO of Communities in Schools North Carolina, shared that a 17-year-old had died not too long ago.

“He got a hold of something,” she said. “He didn’t know what it was.”

They are part of a much larger picture of the toll that the opioid crisis has had.

In Arlington, Va., pictures line the walls at the DEA’s offices as a memorial to those who have died from fentanyl. There are so many victims, they ran out of wall space for photos, Michelle, the Forsyth County mom said.

“It kind of takes your breath away,” she said, “when you see face after face after face.”

This article first appeared on North Carolina Health News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article on the NC Health News website.

Heavenly journey: Message in a bottle floats on to France in tribute of woman who died from Fentanyl

Patricia Drewes decided to write the message. She wrote Heaven’s story in a letter, wrapped it in a photo of her and sealed it in a bottle. It was found in France.

When Patricia Drewes dropped a message in a bottle off the Carolina coast, she didn’t expect it to be found halfway around the world – but she hoped it would.

“I wanted anyone who found that bottle to know the story of this beautiful girl who had such a beautiful life and a beautiful heart,” Drewes said.

Her daughter, Heaven Leigh Nelson, died of a Fentanyl poisoning in 2019. She was 24.

“These kids are getting illicit synthetic Fentanyl and they don’t have any clue that’s what they’re getting,” Drewes said. “”(Her) life was stolen from her, from myself, from her family, from her friends by a poisoning.”

Since then, Drewes has been raising awareness about the dangers of the illicit drug while caring for her grandson.

“I am the founder of Forgotten Victims of North Carolina. We have eight chapters across the state,” Drewes said. “We reach out to these families, we support these families and our motto is ‘No one stands alone’. That’s the one thing I remember is being alone and thinking I was the only person in the world that this has happened to. We offer support to these families and we become friends and then we become family.”

Every year, Drewes and her grandson take a beach trip on Jan. 28 – Heaven’s death date.

Continue reading “Heavenly journey: Message in a bottle floats on to France in tribute of woman who died from Fentanyl”

Teen’s death linked to fentanyl, Franklin Co. Sheriff says

18-year-old Jacob Cope died on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. According to a Facebook post from Franklin County Sheriff Kevin White, Cope died from accidentally ingesting “the tiniest amount of fentanyl

According to a Facebook post from Franklin County Sheriff Kevin White, Cope died from accidentally ingesting “the tiniest amount of fentanyl.”

“His family is scarred forever,” White said.

Cope’s friend, 2023 Heritage High School graduate Wilson Moore, was also found dead that morning.

White said he keeps Cope’s photo in his office to remind him why he wanted to become Franklin County Sheriff.

“It hits close to home for me,” he said. “It will serve as a constant reminder of the passion I have to end the rapid decline that is eroding our neighborhoods, our state and our country.”

It is unclear if fentanyl ingestion is the cause of Moore’s death, but Moore’s mother suspects it is drug-related.

Read the article and watch the video clip on the WRAL News website.

As opioid overdoses rise in NC, Wake schools looking to stock naloxone in all schools

The Wake school system hasn’t had any reported overdoses, but other school systems have.

Wake County school officials plan to recommend naloxone — the overdose reversal medication — in every school and a policy for staff on training and using it.

Superintendent Robert Taylor told the school board’s safety and security committee Tuesday that officials will come to the committee in April with a proposed policy and a timeline for getting naloxone in every school, early learning center and administrative office.

Naloxone is a prescription medication that reverses opioid overdoses. It targets opioid receptors in the body and blocks the effects of opioid drugs, restoring breathing in a person who has overdosed. It must be administered soon after an overdose has begun and only lasts a short time. It can be administered in several ways but is commonly administered as a nasal spray.

The Wake school system hasn’t had any reported overdoses, but other school systems have.

Last year, naloxone was administered 21 times for a suspected overdose at a North Carolina school, usually by a school resource officer.

The district wants to have naloxone in part because of rising opioid overdoses among 10- to 19-year-olds, said Kelly Creech, district senior director of health and crisis prevention services.

Across the state, school resource officers, not school employees, carry naloxone.

Any upcoming policy proposal would reflect training requirements for employees who want to be able to administer it.

On Tuesday, school board members asked questions about who would have the ability to administer naloxone.

Under state law, school systems must have permission from the state health director to allow non-medical employees to administer naloxone.

Most school systems don’t have a policy in place for school employees to administer naloxone. Of the 86 counties that responded to the state survey, 83 reported school resource officers carrying naloxone.

The school system wants two doses in about 200 schools, early learning centers and central services offices. The average dose lasts between two and three years.

Read the full article on the WRAL TV5 News website.

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Families, teams hurting from suspected drug-related deaths of 2023 Heritage, Bunn grads

A pair of recent Triangle-area high school graduates who were friends linked through their love of baseball died over the weekend.

Two young men who were friends and shared a love of baseball died over the weekend, devastating families and teammates.

Wilson Moore, a 2023 graduate of Heritage High, and Jacob Cope, who graduated from Bunn High in 2023, both passed away on Saturday.

Both Moore and Cope played on a travel baseball team and their respective high school teams before graduating. The two met through work and developed a friendship. The sudden nature of their deaths shocked and saddened friends and family in recent days.

Moore’s GoFundMe said the family suspects Moore died from “accidental substance poisoning.” Cope, 18, also has a GoFundMe to support his family.

Rolesville police are investigating. A toxicology report has not been finalized.

Continue reading “Families, teams hurting from suspected drug-related deaths of 2023 Heritage, Bunn grads”

Resource officers are now the only ones to carry Narcan in Wake schools. Can this change?

Three years ago, Sophia Walsh was returning home after a fun weekend with friends river rafting in Boone.

On the drive back, she stopped at an acquaintance’s house to use the bathroom and get something to drink. An innocent act that had deadly consequences.

The water bottle she found in the refrigerator was poisoned with a dissolved fentanyl pill, according to investigators. An autopsy report found Walsh had 8.4 nanograms of fentanyl in her system, enough to kill four people.

Walsh overdosed on the drug. She was 24 years old.

TRAVIS LONG • TLONG@NEWSOBSERVER.COM
Samantha Brawley, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, shows off the NARCAN nasal sprays and Fentanyl test strips that she carries while traveling in and around the Cherokee Indian Reservation where she offers support to people struggling with addiction. Ten percent of the tribe’s members received a substance-abuse diagnosis in 2012, the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority reported in 2017.

Her family and friends remember the Apex High School and Appalachian State graduate as a passionate foodie, chef and nature lover, often photographing animals, plants and flowers.

“This individual did not have naloxone in their home and did not call 911,” said her mother, Barbara, in an interview. “It was not Sophia’s choice to die, and it was not her choice to ingest fentanyl.”

Since her daughter’s death, Barbara Walsh, has been raising awareness about fentanyl emergencies and working to increase the availability of the nasal spray drug naloxone, or Narcan, which reverses a drug overdose in two minutes. Her organization, Fentanyl Victims of North Carolina, highlights the many young people and their families affected by losses like her own.

Some leaders and advocates say the limited access to life-saving medication in schools should be expanded. Beyond school resource officers, advocates say, teachers, staff, school nurses and even students should have access to and be trained to administer the drug in case of an emergency.

“What is happening today is different than what happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. It’s different than when I grew up,” Walsh said. “We were able to experiment and live. Today, that’s not always the case. The stigma some people have about (drugs) is from another era.”

In Wake County, 1,499 people died from drug emergencies from 2013 to 2023, according to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics. Of that number, 867 — or 58% of the deaths — involved fentanyl. Statewide, more than 36,000 people died from drug misuse from 2000-22.

The synthetic opioid created in the 1960s is often prescribed for pain, and studies show it is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Many young people encounter fentanyl when experimenting with marijuana, Adderall, heroin, cocaine or other pills like ecstasy or Xanax.

Continue reading “Resource officers are now the only ones to carry Narcan in Wake schools. Can this change?”

NC State sophomore raises money to provide free Narcan to students

Sophomore Alyssa Price said she lost two friends to overdoses, and now she’s raising funds to provide free Narcan to students.

An NC State student is raising funds to help fight overdoses on campus.

Sophomore Alyssa Price said she lost two friends to overdoses, so she wanted to do something to help save others.

That’s why she is raising funds to provide Narcan – a medicine that reverses opioid overdose – free to students.

The university has increased resources after 14 students deaths, including two fatal overdoses, during the 2022-23 school year.

Price said this is one area where she felt she could do more.

“They created a bunch of preventative measures last year,” Price said. “But we did not have the part that was, ‘What if it happened?'”

She said she’s trying to help students be more prepared – and proactive – in the case of an emergency.

NC State prevention services does provide free Narcan kits to any campus community member – upon request. The university said it has distributed 744 kits throughout the past two years.

Price started a GofundMe to help raise money for her free Narcan initiative.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WRAL website.