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10 to Watch: Post Overdose Response Team

By Shavonne Potts

shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — In August 2019, the Rowan Public Health Department unveiled its Post Overdose Response Team created as a way to combat the increasing number of opioid overdoses in the county in the previous two years.

The team’s role is to make contact with a person following an overdose and connect them with resources including treatment facilities, support meetings or counseling all in an effort to help them fight their addictions.

The team is made up Ashley Creek, a peer support specialist; Jeff Brown, a community paramedic with Rowan County EMS; and newly added is harm reduction advocate Natalie Arrington, who is with the Center for Prevention Services.

The public health department received a nearly $300,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield to form the team and implement the program. In the same year, the health insurance company gave five state organizations $2 million to address the opioid epidemic. The agencies were chosen for their work to help prevent addiction, treat opioid dependency and transform communities at the local level.

In 2017, Rowan County was among five other counties along Interstate 85 with the worst problems for opioid and heroin overdoses. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the county has averaged 57.8 overdoses per month. Prior to COVID-19, the average was 25.3 overdoses per month.

“Within 24 to 72 hours, we try to be in contact with those individuals to try to get face-to-face and link them with care and life-saving medication like Narcan,” Creek said.

The team also links participants to programs and resources like counseling, mental health care programs, rehabilitation or a detox program.

It’s important for people to know, “I’m never going to give up on you or turn them away,” she said.

The services that PORT provides are at no cost to the participants.

The team follows up with participants after the first month, third and six months.

Arrington plans community outreach events and stays in connection with community partners. If there is a program out there that can benefit the participants then Arrington will find it, Creek said.

Brown establishes referrals for the participants.

“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without him,” Creek said.

Creek said substance use disorder affects people from all walks of life and is an everybody problem.

Who would play you in a movie?
Myself. I always wanted to be famous.
What would you want for your last meal?
Good fried chicken, broccoli casserole, collard greens, mashed potatoes
What’s your biggest personal hope and challenge for 2021?
My hope is PORT can make a difference not only in the lives of the people we serve but I would love to see use making a difference in the community with law enforcement, EMS, the medical system. That we help people understand what substance use disorder is and bring people together in the community to help those in need. The challenge will be getting people the services they need and breaking down barriers and walls around substance use.
Who’s a person you’ll be watching in 2021?
The surrounding PORTs in other communities, to include the Guilford County Solution to the Opioid Problem (GCSTOP), and to learn and collaborate on how we can serve our community.
What would you do if you won $10 million?
Create more programs in our area and in this state for people to receive free treatment and holistic treatment because it’s not just about the drugs. I would really take care of people and use it to educate others in substance use disorders. I would also fund PORT for longer and hire more peer support specialists.
What’s your reaction to being named as one of the Post’s 10 to watch?
Excited that people are noticing what we’re doing so that the PORT can become near and dear to Rowan County and continue to serve the community.

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