unique perspective on the Asheville substance abuse crisis


unique perspective on the Asheville substance abuse crisis

  • Cailey McGinn

     Local journalist and writer based in Asheville, NC!
gas station

By Cailey McGinn
(Names have been changed to protect privacy)

Above is a photo of a man asleep outside by the gas pumps.

Every morning around 10 am the same man comes in and buys two Johnny Bootleggers. He often returns later in the day for two more. He comes in with his dog and is kind to the employees. None of them know him by name but they all know who he is because he's here every day. 

“Yeah that guy is in here all the time, it's kind of sad,” Jeniffer, a clerk, says. This is one example of the concerning habits of Asheville residents. 

During a night shift, it's a regular occurrence for people to come in under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most are harmless but some cause problems in the store. 

An individual who is a constant issue for the store will show up at night and harass clerks. He will come in under the influence of drugs and ask for money and cigarettes in the parking lot even though he is banned from the store. 

He asks around for money so that he can play the lottery machines in the store. He got banned a while back. Jeniffer says he got banned because he left the area near the lottery machines a mess, stole food, asked customers for cash, and spent up to an hour in the bathroom.

He still will come in every now and then, and then he's asked to leave. They have to remind him that he's banned from both the outside and the inside of the store. 

Jennifer, the clerk, escorts him out whilst he curses at her and makes threats. Jeniffer is a kind and approachable person. She's attentive to the needs of others and always finds a way to make her co-workers smile. 

This side of Jeniffer catches you off guard. This is the ugly side of the job. Jennifer chases the man out of the store. She's distressed for the rest of the evening. 

“Trust me I don’t put up with that. If I see him I'll run him off,” Jennifer says. 

Early mornings and late nights seem to be the most active for situations such as these. Workers are required to work 9-hour shifts at a time. So avoiding the times in question is impossible. 

Nina the manager is no longer fazed with incidents like these. Both she and her husband run multiple convenience stores in the Asheville area. 

On a mostly daily basis, she has to remove people loitering outside of the store. She says most of these people appear to be on drugs and have fallen on hard times. 

She says she doesn't like to tell these people that they can't stay here but she has to because of store policies. 

Her husband Lee has the same issues at his store in the Biltmore/South Asheville area. “He has to deal with the same issues at his store that we do, just as much as we do and maybe even more,” says Nina. 

Lee says that it's been recent. He's been working at his store for a while. He said he's seen an increase in both homelessness and people on drugs. 

Other store employees have noticed a spike in what appears to be drug use among the customers at the store. 

While working in the morning, the other manager, Jane, points out a couple parked in front of the building. 

“Looks like he's nodding off in the driver seat,” says Dawn. She assumes that they are on drugs because of their demeanor. 

The two people are both slouched in the front seats of the car. They look young. They have scars all over and look thin. They both had come in to use the bathroom prior.

There have been times when customers have had to alert the clerks that they found needles in the bathroom. 

A very obviously homeless man starts digging through the trash for food. He has no shirt on. He pulls out a half-eaten slice of pizza and begins to eat it. The clerks let this one slide and give him a slice from inside the store. He promises to pay them back one day and continues to dig through the trash. 

He has some of the textbook signs of drug use. He doesn't seem to be on anything at the moment. He's shaking quite a bit and appears to have symptoms of drug withdrawal. 

Kyle, a new clerk, just moved to Asheville from Charlotte. He says that Charlotte has the same issues but that it's more jarring here. 

Kyle has never dealt with substance abuse problems but he said he's sympathetic to people that have them. He says he has experiences with people struggling with drug abuse in his days as a “broke musician”.