WakeUp Carolina is a community-based movement born out of Nanci Shipman’s family’s heartbreaking loss of their son Creighton in the summer of 2016. Nanci’s openness and willingness to share her story ignited a cause and shed a light on the larger crisis of opioid misuse both locally and nationally. It’s been nearly a year since we visited with Nanci, who also founded the local teen support program called Creighton’s House. If you missed that article, it is a very compelling story. You can access it at bit.ly/2kkw8mh. I was able to meet with Nanci last week to get an update on where we as a community currently stand in dealing with this crisis and what she and the WakeUp Carolina team, both volunteers and community, are focused on accomplishing this year.

WakeUp Carolina hosted “Lighting the Path of Hope” on Aug. 27, honoring the upcoming National Overdose Awareness Day. They kicked off the night with overdose prevention training with narcan, a lifesaving drug that counteracts the effects of an Opiate overdose. Over 70 people were trained, making that event the largest community training and distribution event in South Carolina.

“The Opioid Crisis is just the most immediate building burning at this moment” Nanci said. “Substance misuse has been around since the dawn of mankind, and it is for us to think that we can solve a problem that pervasive. But what we can do is to provide awareness, education, hope, support and resources to those within our community that have been impacted by addiction.”

“What we have seen lately is a resurgence in the abuse of crystal meth, cocaine and other drugs, but they are now often laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous and addictive substances known,” Nanci said.

“We have accomplished a lot in the last two and a half years. There are monthly community seminars in Charleston and Berkeley Counties. The weekly Creighton’s House meeting for teens has drawn regular participants from up to an hour’s drive time away. They don’t miss a meeting. WakeUp Carolina is also starting weekly family recovery meetings in November. There is a constant stream of emails and phone calls from those still trapped in the cycle of abuse that are seeking direction. There is a regular grief group that meets in support of families that have lost a loved one to overdose. We have collaborated with the City of North Charleston to help them set up regular public forums like ours, and the City of Charleston is talking about doing the same thing,” Nanci said.

“But of all the things that have happened, I believe that the most important first step that needed taken has been successfully achieved. Through these community education events, through individual work and through efforts like yours with these articles, barriers are removed and the gaps are being filled. The discussion has been started, and I feel like now we are getting the crucial feedback and ideas from the community to help guide us in the most effective directions. This truly is a community effort – no one person has anywhere close to all the answers or the ability to chip away at more than a small chunk of the problem,” Nanci said.

“Yes, opioids have opened the door to allow us to talk about addiction. Yes, you can die the very first time you use opioids, which isn’t typically the case with other addictive substances. Yes, opioid misuse can point to over-prescribing by the medical community as pharmaceutical companies targeted vulnerable sectors of the country with promotional strategies. But the magnitude of the core problem is staggering – and it is about all addictive substances. No one can even begin to guess the cost in lives, money, time and effort that addiction exacts from just our city,” Nanci said.

“It is impossible to think we can solve the addiction problem. But now that we are talking about it, people want and need answers. People are tired of being held hostage by their own or someone else’s addiction. And there are solutions. Every life has value, and people deserve access to the best methods to contend with this issue regardless of their zip code, neighborhood, family name or socio-economic status. Every single life matters,” Nanci said.

“Our events have had strong support, attendance and participation, which supports as well as validates the fact that we need one another to heal and bring much needed change to our community. People are being guided to the most appropriate help for their situation and lives are being saved and improved. One person at a time, we are seeing a positive impact that has sent ripples throughout the community. We have people from medicine, counseling, science, government and law enforcement working together to bring impactful, collaborative solutions. It is truly taking on a life of it’s own, and that is absolutely just as it should be,” Nanci said.

“The biggest problem we are contending with now is one of logistics. We are using various donated spaces for all of our events which means that it is becoming harder and harder to keep the communication going that is necessary to keep all of it coordinated. And we also have regular requests from people for a safe space that they can just be – just feel safe to breathe for a while and feel they have a team, support and resources to aid them in taking their next right step. We also have people who are willing to openly share their expertise – for instance those willing to provide vocational rehabilitation, job training and apprenticeships for those working to stay sober,” Nanci said.

“So we need a space provides room for collaboration, education and fellowship. A place where people can help each other. There are models in other communities, mostly funded by philanthropy, that serve their communities well in all of these various ways. We have applied for a South Carolina State Grant to help us with this, but the issue comes back to financial sustainability. It takes resources, and we are working hard to try to put together a model that will stand the test of time. We are very open to suggestions and want to get it right because it will positively impact thousands of lives at the local level,” Nanci said.

Time ran short very quickly with Nanci – she is off setting up a monthly “Breakfast of Hope” event and preparing for a seminar on grieving. Her schedule is full; she just moved her daughter into school, helped move a son into college for his freshman year and has a young baby to tend to. When one has so much on their plate and it seems they are constantly ‘swimming against the tide’ it is easy to get overwhelmed. We do appreciate you and all your efforts Nanci. Such selfless dedication and firm devotion to helping others is an asset that it is impossible to assign a value to. Until next article, I hope that all are good to themselves and those close to them.

This article series, written the first and third week of each month, is meant to educate the community about addiction in general and the Opioid Crisis in specific that is affecting communities nationwide. We are hopeful that this series will make a difference. When appropriate the names will be changed of those the articles feature. The author welcomes inquiries or shared experiences, and can be reached at David@PhoenixSC.org.