Would you (could you?) save someone who is overdosing? My answer is an immediate and sad no, and part of that answer would reflect my belief that I don’t know any opioid abusers and that I am not a trained health professional.
Yet, the fact is that armed with something called Narcan as well as a relatively short and simple training session, you indeed could save someone who is overdosing on opioids.
Opioid abuse has reached crisis levels not just in remote areas of the United States but right here in our villages and in DuPage County. The Hinsdale Fire Department, in conjunction with the DuPage County Health Department’s Narcan Program, will present Save a Life: Overdose Prevention Bystander Training from 10-11 a.m. on April 13 in the cafetorium of the Hinsdale Middle School.
Regular civilians like you and like me, people with perhaps no medical experience whatsoever, are the target audience for this free and open to the public training session.
“This is one of those truly life-threatening emergencies where seconds do matter,” said Jared Skibbens, a firefighter and paramedic with the Hinsdale Fire Department.
Skibbens explained that the beauty of Narcan is that this medication will reverse opioid overdoses and that it is relatively easy to administer, as easy as giving a dose of nasal spray. He said that he hopes businesses will consider keeping a dose of Narcan on hand.
Narcan is the name for a nasal spray of naxolone which can treat an overdose of opioid drugs.
“It can keep people alive so they can seek treatment,” said Mila Tsagalis, the director of Community Initiatives for the DuPage Count Health Department and the director of its Narcan program.
The DuPage Narcan program began in 2014 when the DuPage County Coroner’s office became alarmed at the amount of deaths attributed to overdose. The coroner met with other leaders in DuPage County and started the Narcan program, which involved arming first responders with training to administer Narcan.
It is not a new drug, Tsagalis said. Paramedics and emergency medical technicians have been using the drug naxolone, the official name, routinely for years now. But in the past five years, police in DuPage County have administered it too. In the first year, 2014, it was used 32 times successfully — in other words, 32 lives were saved.
In 2018, Narcan was administered 176 times successfully and, according to statistics shared with me, the immediate use of Narcan has staved off fatal overdoses 590 times out of a total of 962 reported incidents from 2014 to 2018. The opioid overdoses in these statistics are from heroin, fentanyl, heroin and fentanyl combined and opioid prescription medications.
Who knows if one of those lives might be the teen next door who accidentally became addicted to a legally prescribed opioid painkiller when recovering from a sports injury. The teen then may have started to abuse his or her prescription and tried to get more through illicit channels before turning to snorting or shooting heroin. That is a familiar path of addiction, according to Skibbens.
In DuPage County, we have seen an increase in opioid abuse, Tsagalis said, and she does not expect to see a decrease.
The Hinsdale Overdose Prevention Training is only the second time the DuPage County Narcan Program has done such community-based training. The first time was held in Lisle last fall, and the turnout was much higher than expected.
While the Fire Department and the DuPage Country Narcan Program would appreciate people registering to attend the Saturday, April 13 program, they are also happy to take people who show up the day of the training, Skibbens said. The important thing is that people attend.
All who attend will be given a dose of Narcan to carry with them, should they ever find themselves faced with someone overdosing. For more information, email Tsagalis at email@example.com. For more information about opioid misuse and abuse, go to www.helplineil.org or call 833-234-6343.
Sara Clarkson is a freelance columnist.