Forsyth County Opioid Task Force expanding resources

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- How Alex Wilson’s story of addiction starts is all too familiar. But it’s how he escaped that’s inspiring others to press the restart button, no matter how far gone they may feel.

"I had a pretty bad back injury, then from there they give you pain medicine,” Wilson detailed.

More than seven years ago, Wilson’s prescription quickly developed into an addiction.

"Maybe a matter of months to where [that] feeling of control was gone,” he said.

When he was unable to find more legal painkillers, he turned to an illegal substance.

"I was just hanging out with a friend and tried something new for the first time,” Wilson recalled.

Wilson blacked out while overdosing.

“For fear of getting in trouble, the guy I was using with drug me to an elevator and just clicked down and then left,” he said.

When he came to, Wilson was surrounded by EMTs who had used naloxone on him to reverse the overdose. After the initial anger he felt over losing his high, he realized it was time to make a change.

"I finally decided to make a different decision and then turn my life around,” he said. “It wasn't easy, it was the hardest thing I've ever done but it was absolutely worth it."

Today, Wilson is a certified peer support specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. There, he does peer support for surgery trauma and internal medicine, going into the rooms of patients who are struggling with addiction to offer hope and other alternatives.

"Went from being homeless to being a homeowner,” said Wilson, who now has a 2-year-old son. "Went from being unemployable to being employed at a major, world-renowned hospital."

Wilson’s profession is just a part of the initiative designed to help addicts overcome their struggles.

"You have to treat the whole person, not just the addiction issue,” said Forsyth County Emergency Services Captain Tara Tucker, who is also the chair of the Forsyth County Community Opioid Task Force.

With more than 50 agencies involved, the task force is designed to provide resources for addicts from the discovery of their addiction, to the late stages of recovery.

An example includes the community paramedics, who go out to respond after an overdose, providing users with information and Narcan.

"We need to make sure these people that are connecting folks to treatment are aware of all the options,” Tucker said.

Other resources include several mental health and substance abuse partners, prescription assistance, shelters, transportation and options for veterans.

"Things can get better and people do recover,” Wilson said.

In addition to adding peer support specialists, the task force is looking to work on a county-wide project to better inform people of available resources.

"Even our first responders don't always know all the resources, so I know the average community person doesn't,” Tucker said.

There is an upcoming Addiction Research and Clinical Health Symposium, from Aug. 14-16, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Wake Forest Biotech Place, at 575 N. Patterson Avenue. Another event, titled “The Many Faces of Addiction,” is planned from Aug. 30, from 7:50 a.m. to 3 p.m., on the third floor of McCreary Tower at BB&T Field, located at 475 Deacon Blvd.

For more information on the task force, click here.

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