UMO Alumna Melissia Larson Makes Impact on Opioid Epidemic
MOUNT OLIVE-Melissia Larson of Greenville graduated from the University of Mount Olive (UMO) in 1997 with a degree in criminal justice and criminology. It was just the catalyst she needed to launch herself into a fulfilling and meaningful career that has helped her assist countless individuals and agencies throughout North Carolina.
“When I completed my associate’s degree at a local community college in 1995, UMO had literally just begun their accelerated criminal justice classes. As a young mom working part-time, I was beyond excited that UMO provided me with a much needed pathway to complete my degree.”
After graduating from UMO, Larson began working part-time at Carteret Community College. She was involved in a new, innovative program to provide criminal justice classes to high school students. She also taught classes on the community college campus. In 2000, Larson obtained a position at the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office writing public safety grants and conducting crime analysis. Over the next 16 years, she developed programs involving a range of topics that served to reduce injury and death along with increasing the agency’s ability to serve the citizens. Projects included traffic safety, firearm safety education, human trafficking, domestic violence, judicial court programs, and opioid-related programming.
In 2015, Larson developed a naloxone program for law enforcement. It was the first program of its kind in North Carolina. Pitt County Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement agency in the State to carry naloxone, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose. Larson’s involvement with the program enabled her to develop a strong working relationship with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), a state-wide non-profit. As a result of that relationship, she began working with the NCHRC in 2016.
“They were just beginning to operate the first Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in North Carolina, which was located at the Fayetteville Police Department,” Larson said.
Today, Larson holds the position of Law Enforcement Programs Manager. She provides technical assistance to law enforcement agencies and communities across the state that are interested in implementing a LEAD program. In this role, Larson provides support to the six LEAD sites in NC. She frequently makes national presentations about NC’s experience with LEAD programs. She also manages a grant-funded project in which NCHRC provides overdose prevention education within three jails. The goal is to provide education in order to reduce opioid-related injury and death among persons exiting jail.
“Working at NCHRC allows me to engage in innovative programming to support justice systems looking to move away from punitive approaches to addressing behavioral health issues,” she shared.
There is no typical work day for Larson. She may be traveling out of state to present or attend a conference. She may be traveling to a community in NC to help them explore diversion programming like LEAD, or to identify other programming opportunities regarding substance use disorders. She may also be providing harm reduction education to community members or law enforcement agencies. She enjoys the variety her job offers and the ability to make an impact.
“My job is very rewarding,” she said. “It enables me to work within a helping profession to change the way the criminal justice system operates.”
By engaging in prevention work, Larson is able to bring public health and public safety systems together resulting in improved responses, which ultimately improves quality of life.
“As a military brat, I have a great appreciation for the work law enforcement does,” she shared. “I take personal gratification when I know I have changed the hearts and minds in how law enforcement officials interact with people impacted by drug use.”
Larson lives in Greenville, NC with her husband and two children. She is an active member and past president of Pitt County Coalition on Substance Use.
“We are so proud of the good work that Mrs. Larson is doing,” said Dr. Aaron Carver, Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Associate Professor of Criminology and Sociology. “She is a shining example of what our University of Mount Olive criminal justice alumni are doing to transform the world around them.”
“I will forever be indebted to UMO for preparing me for my career,” Larson said.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has education service centers in Mount Olive, Jacksonville, New Bern, Research Triangle Park, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Washington, and Wilmington. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.