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Advocates working to reduce overdose deaths in NC

Posted March 14, 2015
Updated March 18, 2015

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— It’s a call no family wants to receive.

“She called me screaming, 'Jason’s gone, Jason’s gone,'” Tonya Skinner said, recalling the moment she learned her 26-year-old son died of a prescription drug overdose.

Jason Tudor's doctor prescribed him OxyContin to relieve the pain from his broken hand. He soon started buying the drug off the street. Tudor realized his habits were beyond his control and broke down to his mom on Mother’s Day 2008.

“He cried and said, 'Mom, I can't do this anymore. I don't like this, it's not fun anymore. I need some help.'” Skinner said.

She responded immediately and doctors enlisted him in a treatment program days after their conversation. However, there was a two-month waiting list.

It was two months too late. Tudor died May 24, 2008, before he could get the help he needed.

“It took me two years to even be able to speak about it, and now I’ll speak anytime I can because I want other parents to know not to be ashamed,” Skinner said.

Organizations in North Carolina are pushing for overdose prevention to make people more aware of the dangers and to save lives. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) is an advocacy group created in 2013 to address the overdose epidemic through a public health approach. It aims to provide resources like naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, for free to people in North Carolina.

Tessie Castillo, advocacy and communications coordinator of NCHRC, said there have been 376 reported overdose reversals in the last two years from the naloxone kits the group has provided.

“I don't think there is really any way to make a difference more directly than to get calls and texts on almost a daily basis from someone saying thank you, you saved my life because of this medicine you gave me,” Castillo said.

In 2013, North Carolina had the 30th highest rate in the nation of prescription drug overdoses, according to a study by the nonprofit Trust for America's Health. Each year, more than 1,000 people die from prescription drugs, and Castillo said that number is increasing every year.

The 911 Good Samaritan Law was passed in 2013 with the goal of reducing the number of overdose deaths in North Carolina. This law gives immunity from prosecution for minor drug and alcohol violations to those who call 911 for help. Advocates hope the law will make people more likely to dial in and get help when someone is overdosing.

Castillo said the North Carolina legislature has been supportive, but at times there is still pushback to addressing issues involving drug abuse.

"If I do get any opposition, it's kind of along the lines of why should we help people who use drugs or doing something illegal," she said. "There's a lack of sympathy sometimes."

Skinner, who lives in Garner, is part of a national group, The Addict's Mom, which has a chapter in Raleigh. She said she wants to share her story to help other families with loved ones who are struggling with addiction. She hopes by speaking out, she can help save lives.

"Let them know that they're worth something and that you want to help them and there is help out there to get," she said. "Don't be afraid, don't be ashamed if you're out there using. You're worth something."

Skinner said she doesn't want anyone to go through what she does every day since her son died.

"You put a smile on your face, but there is a hole in your heart that nothing can replace," she said.


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