Dare Health officials, merchants partner to save lives

By on February 17, 2023

Jesse Ruby (left), Peer Support Specialist with DCDHHS’s ROSS program and Cindy Swoope (right), with TJ’s Gas & Grill standing in front of free harm reduction resources and supplies available to the public. (Dare County Health and Human Services)

Program supplies local businesses with naloxone, fentanyl test strips

The owner of TJ’s Gas & Grill in Colington knows that people have suffered drug overdoses on the site of her business.

“We have had them pass out in the parking lot” from overdoses, noted TJ’s owner, Judy Beasley. She said employees have called 9-1-1 and emergency responders have administered naloxone, an opioid overdose-reversing nasal spray that is often called by its name brand version, NARCAN®.

Now, TJ’s has naloxone and other supplies to prevent and reverse overdoses on hand. It’s one of a number of local businesses and organizations—ranging from gas stations to grocery stores—that have partnered with the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services’ Recovery and Overdose Support Services (ROSS) to distribute those materials.

Through grant funding, ROSS supplies fentanyl test strips, naloxone, medicine lock boxes, medicine disposal kits and other resources to places that agree to partner in the effort, allowing patrons to pick up the materials at no cost.

Fentanyl test strips can determine if fentanyl is in substances or pills before they are taken, while naloxone can reverse overdoses from fentanyl, heroin, prescription medications and other opioids, according to public health officials.

Since last October, the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has left 138 doses of naloxone kits and 170 fentanyl test strips at TJ’s, according to Kelly Nettnin Fleming, DHHS health education and outreach supervisor.

“TJ’s has received just a tremendous amount of positive feedback from their customers…saying things like, ‘TJ’s saves lives,’ ‘Thank you so much; this is so needed,’ so we’ve gotten really good feedback from the patrons in TJ’s, and obviously from TJ’s as well,” Fleming said.

Beasley sees the effort as a safety measure. Materials are restocked about once a week on a display table by the checkout counter at TJs, and every time, “within 24 hours, it’s gone,” she said. Most patrons taking the materials “keep it in their car in case one of the kids” or someone else they encounter needs it.

Created to respond to people struggling with substance use, mental health and trauma challenges, ROSS began as a pilot program in Kill Devil Hills in 2018 and expanded countywide in 2019, according to Fleming. The partnerships with local businesses and agencies to distribute potentially life-saving materials began in the latter half of 2022.

Some of the other participating businesses cited by health officials are White’s Shopping Center in Manns Harbor; the Duck Thrus in Manteo; the 7-Elevens in Kitty Hawk and in Kill Devil Hills; Miss Helen’s Stop Quik, the Circle Ks and Speedway in Kill Devil Hills; Food Lion and St. John United Methodist Church in Avon; Red Drum Tackle Shop and Conner’s Supermarket in Buxton.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, and it is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It can be mixed with drugs ranging from heroin to marijuana, or made into pills resembling other prescription medications, according to public health officials.

Statistics provided by Dare County EMS indicate that more than 40 people in the county received naloxone in each of the past five years, other than 2019, when it was 34. Administrations over the past five years have been recorded in every town and across unincorporated areas of the county—from Stumpy Point to Wanchese to Waves.

Year End Review
  2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Number of Patients receiving Naloxone 48 34 41 54 41
Average Patient Age 47 43 38 34 42
SOURCE: Dare County EMS


EMS, law enforcement and fire department personnel all administered significantly more naloxone, measured in milligrams, in 2022 than in 2018.

“The rate of drug overdoses has just gone up, and a good part of that is because of fentanyl,” said Roxana Ballinger, Dare County DHHS health education and outreach director. “Fentanyl is…killing people of all ages. It’s killing people who are regular users and it’s killing people who just use occasionally.”

Fleming encourages parents to build strong relationships with their children. Then when they reach the rapid changes of puberty, it is easier to know, “OK, this is not how they handle grief, or this is not how they handle getting upset or getting angry…so that you are then able to maybe intervene more quickly” if substance use occurs.

“Substance abuse has been a longtime concern” in Dare County, consistently showing up alongside mental health concerns since 2000 in the Community Health Needs Assessment conducted every three years, she said.

Dare County residents, businesses or agencies can reach out to ROSS’ peer support specialists, Jesse Ruby and Katy Haslar, via the confidential email address RecoveryServices@DareNC.gov.

Public health officials are also working on a countywide “fentanyl kills” public awareness campaign, which a portion of the county’s opioid overdose settlement funding will make possible, and they welcome businesses to fill out this online form to participate in that effort.


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