How one rural community is fighting to save lives from drug overdose

The Driftwood Motel on Oak Island, North Carolina, has seen better days. All around it, pastel-colored vacation homes with kitschy names like After Dune Delight reel in tourists with promises of beachfront sunsets and shaded hammocks by the pier. Though the Driftwood Motel is also painted in cheerful pastels, the paint is flaking off in dry strips and littering the ground next to cigarette butts and busted beer bottles. Rhonda C. lives on the bottom floor of the Driftwood with her bed, couch and kitchen furniture crammed into a room with dark sheets that cover the windows. She is one of the motel’s many long-term residents – people drawn in by the $100 a week price tag who end up staying far longer than they had planned. A gray-haired, matronly woman, Rhonda looks after the other residents, especially the young ones who drift in and out in various stages of inebriation. She hadn’t been able to offer them much, until she met Margaret Bordeaux.

Margaret is a petite, African American woman, quiet and unassuming until you get to know her fiery side. As an outreach worker for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, Margaret runs a mobile harm reduction unit in Brunswick County, a sparsely populated rural community hugging North Carolina’s Southeast coast. Brunswick is also one of the counties hardest hit by drug-related deaths in the state. At least once a week Margaret drives its lonely roads, seeking out places like the Driftwood Motel that collect people who have lost every other home. Thanks to a grant from the Aetna Foundation to combat the opioid epidemic, Margaret has a van stocked with supplies to help reduce drug-related death and disease. She gives out naloxone (a medicine that reverses overdose from opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers), syringes, and other resources, and she teaches people how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose.

“I make friends and develop relationships in Brunswick County,” says Margaret. “Many of the people I’ve met here thought that naloxone and clean syringes were magical things only available in [cities]. No one has been coming out here to offer these services until now.”

Tessie Castillo/The Fix