A roomful of Marine Parkers learned how to administer the life-saving drug known as naloxone, or narcan, which can reverse the deadly effects of an opioid overdose during an overdose-prevention meeting with city health officials at the Carmine Carro Center on June 20 — just days after a young woman died a few blocks away, likely from an overdose.
Neighborhoods all over the country are dealing with the devastating opioid epidemic — which includes heroin and prescription painkillers — but if everyone is equipped with naloxone, it should be possible to save many lives, said one leader from the Marine Park Civic Association who helped organize the meeting with state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Marine Park).
“We’ve had at least four or five [overdoses] in the past couple of months, it’s just bad all over,” said Peggyann Accardo. “This is why we want to get the kits into everybody’s hands, even if you don’t have anybody in your family [using opioids], it could be a neighbor.”
Opioid abuse has risen steadily in all five boroughs for the last six years, officials from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told the packed room, with more people dying from the drugs now than from AIDS when that epidemic was at its peak.
“More people in the United States die of overdose than people died of AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic — and more people die of overdose every year than the combination of suicide, homicide, and car accident fatalities,” said Caroline Rath, who is also a physician’s assistant and a public health practitioner. “The sad summary is that overdoses have been rising for six consecutive years, there is no sign that the problem is abating, and it’s affecting every community is New York City.”
Rath handed out small blue kits to everyone who wanted one. They contain two doses of naloxone, which are administered through the nose to block the effects of an opiate on the brain. Opioids slow a person’s breathing, and overdose victims typically die of suffocation.
Naloxone is harmless if someone is not overdosing, so good samaritans who see someone unconscious but don’t know the cause, should not wait for a definitive diagnosis of an opioid overdose before intervening to save their life, said Rath.
“I think it’s human nature to be nervous — you can’t hurt anyone and you can’t make a mistake. If you’re thinking you’re helping to revive an overdose but later you find out it was really a heart attack, you can’t hurt them,” she said. “So this is like giving someone water if they are not having an overdose, so you can feel confident to get involved if there’s an emergency.”
Some questioned if handing out the life-saving drug could have a negative effect, by making those who are addicted feel it’s okay to keep using. But Rath put the kibosh on that theory by pointing out that the statistics show that promoting awareness about naloxone — which also highlights the risk of overdosing — actually inspires people to get help.
“It’s actually been shown that it doesn’t make people use more drugs. And when we train people on using naloxone, it actually makes them more likely to enter treatment to get treatment for their drug use problem,” said Rath. “We’re not saying it’s okay to use drugs — we’re saying that everyone’s life is precious.”