There is a slight change in her voice as a graduation picture of her son and his three friends, whose faces are blackened out, appears on the projector screen. All of them are wearing gowns of Model High blue, standing together with the backdrop of the Town Green.
Ansley Silvers, the director of addictive disease at Highland Rivers Health, says she was not just “mom” to her son, rather over the years it became the preferred name the other three boys had for her, as well. But it is one in particular of whom she begins to speak of most, one of the blackened-out faces.
This boy had just graduated with tremendous hopes for what the future would bring, Silvers said, adding that as just a teenager he was probably making more than she was. He was working at Floyd Medical Center and had a full-ride to Berry College.
Then one day, when she was off in Florida for work, Silvers heard the news — this boy, so close to her family, was dead. He overdosed on the synthetic opioid U-47700, which she found out later, he had been buying online using the digital currency Bitcoin.
“I had no clue there was drug use,” Silvers said, speaking with frustration at not knowing, even though she works with people doing so every day. “These kids were great.”
The boy’s death prompted Silvers to ask her son if he had been using it too — he responded ‘yes.’ So as she spoke to members of the Rome Rotary Club on Thursday afternoon, she asked what the community can do to respond to the opioid crisis, which once again led back to the death of her son’s friend.
Narcan, the nasal-spray version of naloxone used for emergency response to an opioid overdose, could have saved him, Silvers said. In her Jeep she has 100 kits, which she offered to give to anyone at the meeting “no questions asked” and train them on how to deploy it. She also encouraged anyone wishing to keep a kit with them to contact her on Facebook or call her office at 770-387-3538.
Silvers said open communication to break the silence is one of the most important measures community members can take in extending help to someone who may be abusing opioids. This comes with tearing down the stigmas surrounding the disease of addiction which discourage people to pursue help out of fear of how they will be perceived, she continued.
Silvers, who also serves on the state opioid task force, went through name after name of famous musicians, inventors and world leaders who were addicted to a substance, from Elvis to Edison to Churchill.
“These aren’t stupid people,” Silvers said, speaking to a common misconception of the type of people addicts are. “They had an illness.”
The abuse of opioids is not limited to prescription drugs, Silvers said. Synthetic opioids, like the one which killed her son’s friend, were purchased on the internet, and those addicted to the drugs can also abuse over-the-counter drugs, such as an anti-diarrheal product, to a reach a high.
Following her presentation, in which she mentioned that Floyd County ranks in the top five Georgia counties for the number of opioid prescriptions issued per person — this comes from an analysis by a local law firm handling a class-action suit against manufacturers — several medical professionals spoke out on what those in their field can do to attack the problem.
Dr. John Cowan, a Harbin Clinic neurosurgeon, said doctors bear the full responsibility for the opioid crisis since they are the ones prescribing the drugs. Sharing an example, he said doctors focusing on immediate patient satisfaction can prescribe opioids in response to a patient’s back pain, making them feel better faster. But in changing the mindset, “of relieving pain not abolishing it,” doctors could just as easily tell the patient to take Advil and rest for many cases.
Dr. Julie Barnes, the chief medical officer at Redmond Regional Medical Center, said the “horse is out of the barn” when it comes to people addicted to prescription opioids. The federal government is “backpedaling” by requiring manufacturers to cut down the production of opioid prescriptions, because those already addicted will now turn to street drugs like heroin.
On Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Redmond will host a Crush the Crisis day where people can drop off unused opioid prescriptions and expired medications to Floyd County Sheriff’s Office deputies who will take them to be incinerated.