Friday, April 13, 2018

Narcan: A necessary part of your first aid kit

Last month, I organized a Narcan training exercise in Gasport at which 20 people were in attendance. It wasn’t my first foray into such an endeavor, as I booked a class 2 years ago at my company.

I have deemed such seminars to be necessary because the opioid epidemic has become a regular part of Western New York life. It has permeated every demographic – young and old; rich and poor; black and white; urban and rural.

Even my beloved hometown -- which some call God’s Country -- hasn’t been spared horrors. I used what happened there over just 3 weeks of last November to set the table and garner interest in last month’s class: There was one household that saw 3 different people overdose, a worker at a local business OD’ed during that place’s busiest day of the week, and a young lady died from heroin. 

The statistics show that every one of us knows someone who is addicted to some sort of opioid whether it’s heroin or prescription pain pills like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone and Vicodin. The numbers for overdoses alone are staggering – Niagara County is on pace for 400 overdoses this year while Monroe County saw 262 overdoses in the first 90 days of this year.

That’s why Narcan should become a regular part of your first aid kit. US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said as much last week. We should heed his advice.

Narcan is the name brand of naloxone, an opiate antidote. The active ingredient competes with opioids to bind with the same receptors in the brain that feast on the drugs. Usually, it reverses the effects of an opioid overdose in 2 to 3 minutes, buying the poisoned person time for emergency medical help to arrive.

Without it, someone overdosing can have his or her breathing slow down or stop completely, causing brain damage or death. With heroin and the like, overdosing’s effects aren’t immediate – they typically develop over a 1 to 3 hour period; meaning that someone can come to work or shop at a store in a relatively normal-appearing state then suddenly devolve into total misery.   

Narcan is easy and risk-free to administer. The layman lacking even the most basic knowledge of first aid skills can use it. It is done with a misting agent that is sprayed into the affected party’s nose. No needles. No mess. And, if you were wrong about the diagnosis, there are no ill effects. You can’t get any easier or safer than that.

County governments sometimes offer training and kits free of charge. In the meantime, you can do as I did and book group classes. I called on the services of the Batavia-based Lake Plains Community Care. Their emergency medical services trainer gave an excellent seminar, conducted hands-on training and outfitted each of the trainees with a Narcan kit. All of that was fully funded by a state grant that Lake Plains uses to train the community. 

Ever the proponent of Narcan, over the years I’ve had quite a few people ask me, “why would you bother saving someone who doesn’t want or deserve to be saved and will just do it again?”

Who said they don’t want to be saved – and aren’t all lives are precious?

If you had the ability to save lives with Narcan but abandoned it out of such indifference if not spite, would you want to live with the burden that a child you know is left fatherless or a dear friend no longer has a daughter of her own?

We all need to understand that no one aspires to be an addict. A lot of the young kids who are now messed up made an initial stupid mistake to mess with the drugs. Youthful mistakes can be fixed (although it’s difficult). And, in a majority of the addiction cases users are working class fathers and mothers who got hurt on the job or at home, were prescribed painkillers and got hooked. Parents who tried to manage pain so they could continue to provide for their kids sure don’t match the typical profile of a druggie.    

Being prepared for a heroin overdose that could happen at your doorstep might seem unnecessary. “It will never happen here,” you might say. But, realize that too many mothers and fathers and husbands and wives never thought that a heroin addiction would strike and tear apart their family. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. The life you save might be a coworker, friend, or member of your own family.

Be ready.

From the 16 April 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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