There was a time when it would’ve been a true statement to say, “You’re much more likely to die in a car crash than from an opioid overdose.”
Well, that time is no more, according to results from a study conducted by the National Safety Council using 2017 death rate data, which is the most recent year the numbers are available. The odds of someone in the U.S. dying from an “accidental opioid overdose” are 1 in 96, while the odds of dying in a car wreck are 1 in 103.
The misuse of and addiction to opioids – including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl – have led to a national crisis. More than 100 people die from opioids in the U.S. every day. From 1999 to 2016, more than 12,000 people in North Carolina died from opioid-related overdoses, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Western Carolina University is doing its part to help those affected by this crisis. In addition to receiving counseling help at Counseling and Psychological Services, students can receive support from Catamounts for Recovery. A student-run organization, Catamounts for Recovery is a sober community of individuals supporting recovery from substance use and assistance with mental health issues.
The group holds meetings and activities on campus at “The Garage.” It is a safe space for students to study, meet and relax. It also gives them a place where they can feel comfortable opening up about whatever is going on in their lives. Catamounts for Recovery meets once a month.
Jaelyn Wynn, the assistant director of health and wellness education, serves as the group’s adviser, a role she took on last year when Catamounts for Recovery moved from under the umbrella of CAPS and became a student organization. Wynn said last year’s group consisted of a few underclassmen, but she hopes to see more students involved this year to give it a bigger presence on campus.
“I think a lot of it has to do with there’s a stigma behind those who are in recovery,” Wynn said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to destigmatize so students will want to join because it’s a safe space for those in recovery. Also, students can join if they’re allies of those in recovery, as well.”
CAPS now provides more of a supporting role for Catamounts for Recovery, giving students options for treatment and therapy. It’s a role Aaron Plantenberg, a licensed clinical social worker and licensed clinical addiction specialist with CAPS, said the center is better suited for.
“We really work to help identify resources and to reduce the barriers to recovery,” Plantenberg said. “Some of those barriers can be barriers to housing or relationships, or they’re not doing well in school so they turn to substances kind of as a coping strategy. We really work to identify what all those resources are, Catamounts for Recovery being one of them, having people to connect with that are also in recovery.
“It can be really tough on a college campus where substance use is one of those norms and has been for decades, or longer. It can be challenging for people in recovery, so a lot of it is helping people find resources and ways to connect with other people. That’s what I love about Catamounts for Recovery.”
Fortunately, Plantenberg said he hasn’t seen many students come in for opioid-related support.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not there,” he added. “Anybody is at risk because so much of it begins at the hospital or at the doctor’s office. Hopefully, that’s moving in a better direction as far as less people being prescribed opioids for pain management, and finding alternatives to that.”
In partnership with the Jackson County Community Foundation’s opioid and addiction awareness campaign, WCU’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise is hosting a town hall focused on the opioid addiction crisis Thursday, Oct. 3.