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University of North Georgia students, parents host overdose forum
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Diane Brannen, Robin Elliott, Robin Cardiges, Susan Calame and Laurie Fugitt speak to a crowd of more than 50 students Tuesday at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville. The women are members of Georgia Overdose Prevention. - photo by Kristen Oliver

There’s no need for young people today to die from drug overdoses.

But it happens all too often, not only because of abuse, but because of ignorance and fear.

That was the message Tuesday when students at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville hosted a forum on contemporary drug overdoses, illicit drug-trafficking trends and the life-saving treatment naloxone.

The forum included a panel discussion with members of the organization Georgia Overdose Prevention. Many of the panelists were mothers of children who died from overdoses.

“I don’t ever want any other mother to ever feel like I do,” said Robin Elliott, who lost her son Zack Elliott in 2011. “To know that parents are being saved from this feeling and children are being offered a second chance is the most important thing to me.”

Diane Brannen lost her son Randall Brannen in 2013 to an overdose. He was at a party and tried a designer drug. When he overdosed, the people with him were too scared to call the police for help.

“The two people who were left waited for two hours, never did call 911 and he eventually died at the scene,” Brannen said. “They took him to my front yard and put his body there. When I came home from church, that’s how I found him.”

Brannen and Robin Cardiges, who lost her son Stephen Cardiges in 2012, encouraged young people to educate themselves and not be afraid to ask for help.

Dave Laws, who emceed the panel and also lost his daughter Laura Laws in 2013, said it comforts him to know these lost children have left a legacy.

“They are doing incredible work by the lives they had while they were here,” he said. “You don’t have to be 70 to have a full life.”

Georgia Overdose Prevention was instrumental in passing the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty law, which protects victims and callers seeking medical attention for a drug overdose and makes naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, available.

“That’s really the focus of our organization,” said Susan Calame, who lost her son Sean Lanham to an overdose. “It’s making people aware of what the law is and making naloxone available.”

Calame and fellow panelist Laurie Fugitt gave a naloxone training class at the forum.

“Since our law was passed April 24, 2014, we’ve had 232 naloxone reversals,” said Jeremy Sharp, UNG student and president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “That’s 232 people who’ve potentially had their lives saved because of the actions of the people in this room.”

Fugitt, who is a registered nurse, said anyone who knows someone at-risk can get a naloxone prescription through their doctor or through the organization, which gives naloxone kits away for free.

There are three different kits, one with two large syringes and two vials of naloxone. The second kit is a nasal dose, and the third is a small automated mechanism that gives instructions and automatically provides the dose when pressed against the upper thigh.

“You can determine which way is best for you,” said Fugitt, who distributed kits to those who needed them Tuesday at the Burger King across the street from the college campus.

Dallas Gay with the Medical Association of Georgia, who lost his grandson Jeffrey Gay to an overdose in 2012, said efforts are being made in Hall County to make naloxone more readily available. The Northeast Georgia Medical Center Foundation annual golf tournament will benefit naloxone kit purchases and education this year, and Gay said the Hall County Sheriff’s Department will be equipped with naloxone within the next 30 days.

Sharp encouraged the young people present for the forum Tuesday to spread the word about the amnesty law.

“We hope you guys will be inspired,” Sharp said. “We want to light a candle that you guys can go off and carry into your communities to people who are at risk.”