Community combats opioid epidemic

Annual overdose death toll hits 100,000 

Courtesy of Breanne Pugh

A few weeks ago marked a milestone in U.S. history. Drug overdose deaths in

the U.S. exceeded 100,000 annual deaths for the first time, according to new data from the CDC. This week will mark another more local milestone in combating drug overdoses.

Waynesburg University, in collaboration with the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission, will host its first Narcan-Distribution Drive-Thru. The event will be hosted Saturday, Dec. 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 6000 Town Center Boulevard in Canonsburg.

“The drive-thru event is the new way since we’ve gone through COVID-19,” said Breanne Pugh, project coordinator for Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission. “We used to do in-person training and things like that, but we decided that you know just because COVID-19 is going on we still can’t not distribute Narcan.”

This is the fifth year that the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission will host a Narcan distribution event, but it is the first time the organization is collaborating with Waynesburg University at the Southpointe location.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity for Waynesburg University to partner and to be able to have student involvement in service for individuals who are looking to get involved in these types of community initiatives to help support and really combat the overdose epidemic,” said 

Dr. Kelley McNichols, assistant professor of counseling.

According to Dr. McNichols, the collaboration is a direct result of the Staunton Farm grant, recently awarded to Waynesburg’s graduate and professional studies program. 

“A part of that grant was to engage in harm reduction and overdose prevention so this is one of those initiatives to help support that,” Dr. McNichols said.

According to the CDC, the number of drug overdose deaths increased by 30% during the pandemic in 2020. The main culprit of those overdoses was opioids. Due to these statistics as well as the upcoming holiday season, Dr. McNichols said the event was absolutely necessary.

“We intentionally planned this for Dec. 4 recognizing that the holidays are a very stressful time for individuals who suffer from substance abuse disorders and also for their families and loved ones,” Dr. McNichols said. 

Those in attendance will be provided an overdose prevention kit with Deterra and Dispose Rx (Drug Deactivation Bags) and protective equipment, as well as additional resources. Naloxone (Narcan), which will be distributed in these kits, is a medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Pugh wants people to know that this medication is available to anyone, free of charge.

“Most people still don’t know that you can get Narcan. They don’t realize that you can just go up to the pharmacy and request it,” Pugh said. “So one thing is being able to get the word out, letting people know that it is available; we’re able to provide it free of charge.”

In addition to prevention and awareness, the event aims to eliminate the stigma commonly associated with substance abuse.

“Stigma is the cornerstone of what keeps people in active addiction,” Dr. McNichols said. “So, to be able to offer these types of kits I think is a great way to counter stigma and to show and demonstrate ongoing advocacy for harm reduction and overdose prevention.”

Pugh emphasized that the event is open to everyone, not just those affected by substance abuse.

“A lot of people that come through our events are just people that want to be prepared, you know,” Pugh said. “People that might not even know anyone that are using substances, but they were just people that want to be able to make a difference.”

Since the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission began distributing Narcan in 2015, the organization has distributed over 6,000 overdose prevention kits. As Pugh puts it, they’re just trying to do the greater good.

“It’s just a way of us being able to connect, make relationships and let you know individuals that are using substances as well as their family members know that they’re not alone, that there’s help out there,” Pugh said.