On January 29, 2018, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), a statewide nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of people impacted by drug use, received a report of its 10,000th community-based drug overdose reversal (this number does not include EMS or law enforcement reversals).
Since August 1, 2013, NCHRC has distributed overdose prevention kits containing naloxone, a medicine that reverses drug overdose from most prescription pain relievers and illicit opiates, to people at risk for drug overdose and their loved ones all over the state. Naloxone is a safe, effective medication that temporarily blocks the effects of opiate pain relievers in the brain long enough to restore breathing in a person experiencing respiratory failure from a drug overdose.
“Thanks to this program, an enormous number of families do not have to grieve the loss of a loved one,” says Dr. James “Tripp” Winslow, Medical Director for the North Carolina Office of EMS. “I look forward to continued partnerships with organizations across the state to offer people who struggle with addiction a second chance at life.”
Louise Vincent, who lost her 19-year-old daughter, Selena, to an overdose in 2016, currently runs a program in Greensboro where she empowers former and active drug users to be part of the solution to the overdose crisis. “Naloxone access and strong harm reduction programs are all important ingredients to reducing overdose deaths, but the most important thing we can do is to make sure we are including former and active drug users in all aspects of planning, and implementing new programs and policies,” she says. “I watch every day as task forces and overdose summits are planned and carried out with not one active user anywhere in sight. If you are working on reducing overdose death look around, do you have the people who are most affected at your table?”
Colin Miller, Director of the Twin City Harm Reduction Collective in Winston Salem and a former drug user, echoes the importance of involving people impacted by drug use in programming. “Part of the reason this overdose prevention program has been so successful in getting people to use naloxone is that we distribute it directly to the people who are most likely to need and use it,” he says. “A person is more likely to overdose around a peer than around a person who does not use drugs, such as a family member or a professional.”
NCHRC began offering naloxone along with overdose prevention training to community members after it successfully advocated for the passage of the 911 Good Samaritan law in North Carolina. The 911 Good Samaritan law encourages people to seek medical help for an overdose by offering limited immunity for some drug, alcohol, and probation/parole violation offenses. Information about the law and naloxone kits are important to offer to people leaving jail or prison facilities in particular.
Loftin Wilson, Hepatitis and Harm Reduction Program Coordinator for NCHRC, teaches an overdose prevention class and distributes naloxone kits to people leaving the Durham County jail. “With risk of overdose so heightened in the first weeks after leaving jail, there is rightly a lot of focus on making naloxone available to people being released,” he says. “But something that always strikes me is that in my experience, people who come home from prison or jail are just as likely to use their naloxone to save someone else. The people I meet in jail often express a strong desire to look out for, educate, and empower the people they care about back home, and carrying naloxone is one very tangible way they can act on that.”
In addition to formerly incarcerated people and active drug users, NCHRC’s program partners with a number of other groups, such as law enforcement, EMS and pharmacies, so that professionals at the front lines of the drug epidemic also have naloxone available as a tool.
“When an Officer arrives on a scene with a tourniquet or an AED, we don’t ask the person who needs our help how they got into that situation. Administering naloxone is no different,” says Chief Bill Hollingsed of the Waynesville Police Department, one of the first departments in North Carolina to implement a naloxone program. “It is important that we equip our Law Enforcement Officers with the tools and the resources that they need to perform one of our greatest missions…to save lives.”
Pharmacies across the state are also getting involved with naloxone distribution. Says Davie Waggett, pharmacists and owner of Seashore Drug in Wilmington, “Pharmacists realize that people struggling with opioid addiction are someone’s parent, child, spouse, or friend. Through naloxone distribution, we get a chance to speak to someone about getting help and make them aware of resources.”
For more information on overdose prevention training or how to receive a naloxone kit, visit www.nchrc.org/programs-and-services.
For information on law enforcement departments that carry naloxone, visit www.nchrc.org/law-enforcement/us-law-enforcement-who-carry-naloxone.
Source: Tessie Castillo, NC Harm Reduction Coalition