Durham County

Their son died from an overdose. How they are turning grief into action.

This mother is helping other families heal from opioid deaths too

After losing her son to an opioid addiction in 2015, Anne Sporn is now beginning to build a support system in Durham for other families experiencing a similar loss through the Together for Resilient Youth Coalition (TRY).
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After losing her son to an opioid addiction in 2015, Anne Sporn is now beginning to build a support system in Durham for other families experiencing a similar loss through the Together for Resilient Youth Coalition (TRY).

Anne Sporn remembers how her son Sam “managed to live two different lives.”

Sam was 24 and a student majoring in psychology at UNC Asheville when he died in March 2015 of a heroin overdose. He had “a million friends,” many of whom did not know he was using, Sporn said. “As a parent, I was naive.”

The first year after Sam’s death was difficult for Sporn and her husband, Tom, because of reminders like birthdays and other anniversaries, she said. After that, “we were ready to start doing something positive in Sam’s name.”

Sam went to Durham School of the Arts, where he learned to play guitar. He often volunteered time teaching guitar at Walltown Children’s Theatre. Cynthia Penn Halal, founder of the Children’s Theatre, suggested a scholarship in his name. Anne and Tom established the Sam Sporn Guitar Scholarship , their first effort to honor their son. Sitting in her downtown apartment, Sporn displays several pillows she has sewn to commemorate Sam’s work at Walltown that will be sold to benefit the scholarship.

Sporn also became a training specialist and family support facilitator with the organization Durham Together for Resilient Youth (Durham TRY), a nonprofit that tries to prevent drug and alcohol use among young people. Anne and Tom Sporn (along with Chris and Dawn Musgrove and Dale and Carlotta Dunagin) are starting a support group for families that have lost loved ones to drug abuse. Sporn plans to hold a gathering Jan. 20 for any family that wants to show up.

“It’s a little bit tricky to reach out to other families,” Sporn said. Not every family with a loved one who has suffered from addiction “wants that to be known,” and she wants them to feel comfortable at the January event.

Both President Donald Trump and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper have issued calls to help curb deaths from opioids – which includes prescription painkillers and illegal opiates like heroin. The state campaign includes making Naloxone (or Narcan) kits, which can reverse opoid overdoses, more available.

Sporn and other members of Durham TRY recently got together to create some Naloxone kits for distribution, with supervision from the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition. The kits contain injectible Naloxone, Naloxone nasal spray, gloves, alcohol pads and a mask for rescue breathing.

Putting together the kits offers families who have lost loved ones “some solace,” said Wanda Boone, founder of Durham TRY. They want to help others experiencing the consequences of addiction, and putting together the kits is one way, she said.

DUR_ 20171206_opiumstory_CA
Loftin Wilson, program coordinator with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, shows the materials organized in the bed of the truck that he uses to operate a mobile syringe exchange program, also delivering clean supplies and naloxone kits, two days a week in Durham, NC, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Casey Toth ctoth@heraldsun.com

Making kits available

The N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition works with law enforcement, public health departments and other agencies like Durham TRY to distribute free Naloxone kits. The program targets active intravenous drug users, people who are formerly incarcerated with a history of opiate use, and people engaged in sex work, among others.

“We distribute kits where high risk people are,” said Robert Childs, N.C. Harm Reduction director. In Durham. People who want an overdose prevention kit can contact Loftin Wilson, program coordinator for N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition (See box.). Wilson often meets people at convenient locations to provide the kits, said Tessie Castillo, advocacy and communications coordinator for the coalition.

Some pharmacies offer the prevention kits (some require insurance). The Durham County and Orange County health departments offer the kits for no charge.

In September, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office began carrying Naloxone kits. Seventy-five deputies and eight detention officers have the kits, which they are trained to use when they see people undergoing an overdose from opiates. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and some local police agencies also carries Naloxone.

Focus on prevention

Her work with Durham TRY stresses support for families, education and prevention, Sporn said. Part of that education is getting people to understand addiction.

“People that think addiction is a choice; they need to be educated,” Sporn said. Sam’s experience taught her “how difficult it is for the person who has the addiction ... how hard they try to disguise it, or beat it.” In addiction “your survival instincts are hijacked,” she said.

She also learned “how [addiction] tears apart the things you hold so dear.” Sam had two sisters and a younger brother. “His siblings were all affected,” Sporn said. “His brother was 16 when he died. ... They don’t get to have their older brother any more.”

Prevention requires adults reaching out to people when they are young. “If we try to hit the prevention at an earlier age for kids who are at risk,” their chances of using drugs and alcohol, or becoming addicted, are decreased, Sporn said.

Her work is “nothing big or noble,” she said. “It’s maybe something that can help.”

For the time and location of the Family Support Group gathering, contact annesporn@gmail.com, or go to www.DurhamTRY.org.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

Where to get Naloxone (Narcan) kits

▪  The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition offers the kits at http://www.nchrc.org/ or contact Robert Childs at Robert.bb.Childs@gmail.com or 336-543-8050.

▪  Many pharmacies make Naloxone available under a state standing order. For a list, visit here.

▪  Loftin Wilson is program coordinator for N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, loftinwilson@gmail.com or 919-370-0671.

▪  Durham County Health Department’s pharmacy offers Naloxone kits. For information, email loftinwilson@gmail.com or call 919-370-0671.

▪  Orange County Health Department offers the kits. For information, call 919-245-2400 or visit the site at 300 W. Tryon St.

Family Support Event Information

For information about the time and location for the Family Support Group gathering, contact annesporn@gmail.com, or visit www.DurhamTRY.org.