(Long Island, NY) Opiate addiction – in the form of heroin and painkillers – has nearly become an epidemic across Long Island, and local officials are giving families with loved ones suffering from this malady a way to save them when and if the worst happens.
Narcan – also known as Naloxone – is an overdose-reversal agent that is typically administered through the nostrils, and works to immediately counteract the effects of an Opiate overdose, creating an opening for emergency personnel to step in and provide the care needed to save a victim’s life. The reason Narcan is so effective in combating overdoses is because it is what is known as an opioid antagonist; it reverses depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system caused by opioids.
An overdose rescue kit. Photo Credit: Chris Boyle.
While previously only available to paramedics and police, Nassau County has been rolling out a program in recent years – called Learn How to Recognize and Prevent an Overdose – to put this so-called “miracle” drug in the hands of families as well, in addition to providing the training needed to use it effectively.
Nassau County Director of Governmental Research Eden Laikin heads up many of these Narcan classes, often held at local libraries, schools, hospitals, and other places open to the public. Narcan kits are handed out to attendees, containing everything needed to administer the drug, and detailed, hands-on instruction is provided, all with one goal in mind- saving lives, she said.
“Narcan is used to reverse the effects of the potentially fatal effects of an opiate overdose if administered in a timely manner,” she said. “EMTs and emergency personnel have had it for years, but a state law passed in 2007 allows non-medical personnel to do it without any liability, so we’re teaching anyone interested in saving a life. We’re giving them the actual Narcan kits and showing them how to do it.”
A Narcan nasal syringe. Photo Credit: Chris Boyle.
A typical Narcan kit contains the applicator – in this case, a syringe-like device that is inserted up a victim’s nostril to disperse the Narcan agent – as well as rubber gloves, a face shield, and extra disposable tips for the applicator.
One of the reason that Narcan is being heralded as a “miracle” drug is because, unlike many pharmaceuticals, it not only serves a specific purpose, but is otherwise entirely harmless. In other words, if Narcan is mistakenly administered to someone not experiencing an opiate-related overdose, it will simply have no effect at all.
In addition to training the general public on how to use Narcan, the Learn How to Recognize and Prevent an Overdose events also offer access for attendees to groups who specialize in addiction treatment and other support services, both for those with drug problems and friends and family members of the afflicted.
Laikin noted that some communities on Long Island have their heads buried in the sand in regards to how widespread the current heroin and painkiller epidemic is, but the sobering reality – between 2009 and 2013, 300 people have died in Suffolk County from heroin overdoses, with Nassau seeing a similar surge of deaths as well – is that it is a very real problem that requires a concerted effort on the part of the community as a whole to combat it…and Narcan is a key component of that battle, she said.
“The fact is that Narcan saves lives. It allows people the chance to get the assistance they need to finally get clean and lead happy, productive lives,” she said. “Opioids are a huge problem, and they’re everywhere…however, there’s help available, both to save lives and to get those lives on the path to becoming healthy, happy, and productive members of society, and we want to give that to people.”
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