“All-time high of people that are experiencing overdose.” Rowan PORT team goes to the streets to help those in crisis

Members of the PORT Team were able to help a homeless woman experiencing a health crisis by...
Members of the PORT Team were able to help a homeless woman experiencing a health crisis by calling an ambulance to get her to the hospital.(David Whisenant-WBTV)
Published: Jul. 27, 2022 at 4:19 PM EDT
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ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) -North Carolina is on a pace now to set a record for the most deadly overdose cases with the numbers up 8% over June of last year. Many in communities across the state are trying innovative ways to save lives.

The Post Overdose Response Team, or PORT Team in Rowan County goes out once a month looking for those who may be involved in substance abuse or some other issue, and offering lifesaving resources.

“I mean we’re at an all-time high of people that experiencing overdose,” said Ashley Creek, a certified peer support specialist working the Rowan County Health Department. “Overdoses were going on way before COVID and they got worse since COVID and nobody is paying attention to the 1000′s, 100′s of 1000′s of young people that are dying because of this disease.”

The team goes to places where overdoses happen frequently like parking lots and parks.

“Our community must realize that the people that are overdosing most of the time are not trying to die! These individuals are somebody’s mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent, and/or child that for whatever reason has got addicted to some kind of medicine, which is probably now being laced with Fentanyl, and that is what is killing these people. We need to really educate and change the stigma that comes with substance use, as well as mental health, and reach out to the families that are dealing with this nightmare,” said PORT team member Kelly Potts.

Ashley Creek says working on the PORT team is something she takes personally. A former drug user herself, she’s now a certified peer support specialist trying to save lives. The team passes out bags with water, hygiene kits, and the overdose reversing drug Narcan.

“We can never underestimate the value of hope, right?” Creek said. “Just the fact that we’re here letting people know that we see them, that we care about them.”

The Rowan Health Department is working in collaboration with Rowan Emergency Services and The Center for Prevention Services on the project.

The PORT team was founded in 2019. A grant of $285,326 from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina funded this effort.

The team intervenes directly in affected communities to provide outreach and support. The team assists both active users, and those further along in the recovery process, by providing peer counselling, group therapy, and other support.

The PORT team is made up of a Certified Peer Support Specialist, a Harm Reduction Advocate, and a Community Paramedic who will reach out and will try to connect identified individuals to the available services, treatment and resources available within 48-72 hours of contact.

“Drug is an addiction because I struggle with it every day,” said one woman in a convenience store parking lot, “especially if you’re homeless and you can’t get no help.”

“I think they get down and out and turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with what they are going through, it’s hard out here, but I don’t do no drugs or nothing like that,” said a homeless man in downtown Salisbury.

On Wednesday at that park there was something else going on…a young homeless woman appeared to be in distress. It may have been drugs, or something else. Creek and paramedic Kelly Potts had to convince her that she needed help.

“We’ve called an ambulance and she’ll be taken to the hospital as soon as they arrive,” Potts said. “The fact that she’s not acting exactly right and even some of the people hanging out here with her told us she’s not acting right so we were able to convince her yeah, we need to go to the hospital.”

Ashley’s passion for getting people off drugs drives her. The numbers of people overdosing and dying are alarming she says, and she says it doesn’t help when many say that overdose victims are just suffering the consequences of their own poor decisions.

“People’s mothers are dying, people’s fathers are dying, people’s cousins, aunts, uncles, people’s children are dying because of this,” Creek said. “If it was your child what would be doing?”

“My coping skill was drugs and alcohol. That’s the way I dealt with it. But when you gave me a choice, when somebody bent down and said I see where you’re at, I see you’re hurting, I see you’re in pain, you know, why don’t I show you a different way of life, I ran with it,” Creek added. “But that wasn’t until somebody said that I was worth loving, and that they believed in me because everybody else just said I was getting what I deserved.”

Rowan County Public Health has Narcan available to the public at no expense to the individual, friend, and/or family member. Currently, all a person needs to do is come into our agency (1811 East Innes Street, Salisbury) and let a staff member up know front that they are interested in getting Narcan for themselves, a friend, and/or a family member.

An individual in need may also reach out to Ashley Creek, who is our Peer Health Specialist, by calling 704-245-5869. Ashley can help with access to Narcan, as well as help in trying to find treatment for an individual and/or loved one. In addition to these two options, Kelly Potts can also be reached at 980-234-4680 as a resource for Narcan.

The state of North Carolina is also working on the problem through the NCDHHS. It continues to implement the North Carolina Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan, which aims to prevent addiction, reduce harm from substance use and connect people to substance use services, housing and employment support, and to do all of this with attention to equity. Specific actions include:

  • To prevent overdoses, NCDHHS regularly provides free naloxone to syringe services programs, local government agencies, treatment providers and other community-based organizations.
  • This year, 15 mobile health clinics funded by NCDHHS will begin working in hard-to-reach areas to assess clients and provide treatment, primary care and recovery support services.
  • Community-based organizations receive funding and other support to extend the reach of overdose prevention, harm reduction and substance use treatment services. Certain programs are tailored for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • NCDHHS funds a variety of trainings for professionals working locally in the field on initiatives like syringe services and harm reduction programs, justice-involved linkages to care, post-overdose response teams and prescribing medications for opioid use disorder.
  • Progress is monitored on a data dashboard that tracks state, regional and county-level metrics and local actions.
  • The Hope4NC helpline (1-855-587-3463), continues to assist those who need confidential emotional support, counseling referrals or connection to community resources.

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