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Sep 1, 2015 3:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

With Narcan, Overdose Patients Get A Second Chance At Life

Narcan now can be administered nasally. ROBERT DELAGI
Sep 1, 2015 6:11 PM

In 2001, Southampton native Christie Powers was found dead under a freeway bridge in San Diego, California, after overdosing on heroin at the age of 32.

Her mother, Dr. Susan Powers, was in Manhattan when she retrieved a voicemail from her daughter’s boyfriend, explaining only that she had overdosed. When Dr. Powers did not hear any further news, she followed her instincts and called the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office a few days later. Ms. Powers was confirmed dead.

Had the drug naloxone hydrochloride—commonly known as Narcan—been available back then, her daughter might have had a second chance.

Narcan has become what many describe as a game-changer in dealing with opiate addiction—essentially saving the lives of people who have overdosed. The prescription drug, administered by emergency personnel via an injection or a nasal spray, works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, helping an individual who has overdosed to breathe normally again.

Those involved in treating people with drug addictions say that Narcan creates a precious opportunity for individuals to receive life-saving care after a potentially fatal opiate overdose.

“It kind of gives you this window where someone can get treatment,” said Charlene McAleavey, program director at the Long Island Center for Recovery in Hampton Bays. She explained that the reversal effect that Narcan provides usually lasts for about 45 minutes. “It gives you enough time,” she added.

When Narcan is administered, it enters the circulatory system, is absorbed in the blood, and then travels up to the brain, where it works by reversing the negative effect an opiate like heroin has on receptors that stimulate breathing. According to Robert Delagi, the director of Suffolk County EMS and Public Health Emergency Preparedness, Narcan allows normal chemical transmitters in the brain to resume working, making it possible for the patient to breathe and regain consciousness. In fact, some medical personnel who have administered the drug express shock at how immediate the response can be: unconscious and near death one moment, awake, responsive and walking to an ambulance the next.

Narcan was widely introduced in Suffolk County in 2012 by County Legislator Kara Hahn, who sponsored a bill that enabled the Suffolk County Police Department, in addition to emergency medical technicians, to be trained in administering the drug. Police officers in Southampton Town and Village, East Hampton Town and Village, Quogue Village, and Shelter Island Town all were trained in nasal Narcan administration as well, and every police car within those departments was equipped with a kit.

Ms. Hahn had made it her mission to reduce the number of opiate-related fatalities because, according to a 2012 press release announcing the bill, the number of such deaths in the county had increased by more 72 percent between 2004 and 2011.

Another bill was enacted in 2013 that directed the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to register with the State Department of Health as a certified training center, so that anyone over the age of 18 could be trained in Narcan deployment—meaning parents, companions, roommates and many others could have the drug on hand, and use it properly, in case a loved one ever overdosed.

Prior to Ms. Hahn’s bills, only medical professionals and advanced EMTs could administer Narcan. But thanks to widespread training and better accessibility, nearly 900 overdoses have been reversed since 2013, Mr. Delagi said.

Today, free, hour-long Narcan administration training sessions are held all throughout the county, including on the South Fork. Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependency, said that over the last three years, the organization has worked with Southampton Hospital, the Southampton School District, the Seafield Center in Westhampton Beach, and the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church—whose pastor, the Reverend Michael F. Smith, serves on LICADD’s board of directors. The times and locations of training sessions around the county can be found at suffolkcountyny.gov.

Rev. Smith said he has worked with Mr. Chassman to hold about three or four training sessions at the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, with another one slated to take place in the fall. He added that even though he is not personally aware of a specific instance when Narcan had to be used on the South Fork, it’s important for people to be trained in administering it.

“We think it’s absolutely necessary to have that kind of skill, even if it means saving only one life. It’s certainly a vital community resource,” he said. “It’s just another tool in the toolbox as we fight this whole epidemic of substance abuse. The Hamptons is not immune to the heroin epidemic.”

Mr. Chassman said that LICADD, which has two locations in Suffolk County and plans a third in Southampton in the near future, has trained more than 3,000 people in how to administer Narcan. “People walk away with a life-saving serum,” he said.

But many say that while Narcan has helped to address the heroin epidemic on Long Island by serving as a sort of wakeup call for addicts, it is by no means to be considered a way to cure them.

According to the fifth and latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, substance use disorders are considered mental illnesses. Because of that, Mr. Chassman said that Narcan is more like a first step in treating such disorders, since it “keeps people alive longer, so maybe they could be treated with counseling or therapy” afterward.

“Narcan is not a magic bullet,” Mr. Chassman said. “You need concrete, evidence-based counseling to treat them. This is a chronic and progressive mental illness.”

Dr. Powers, a clinical psychologist who also works as a grief counselor, agreed. Since her daughter’s death, the part-time Sag Harbor resident has worked with many families who have lost loved ones to drug addictions, or who are living with a drug addict now. She has recently penned a book, “Ruthless Grieving,” which guides people in how to cope with such losses.

“The development of [Narcan] is a very important move medically, so people’s lives could be saved. But it’s just one step,” Dr. Powers said. “Then there’s intervening on the addict’s thinking, and intervening on their death trip. Suicide and addiction are very linked, and addiction is like a slow suicide.”

“You can keep a person from jumping off a building today,” she continued, “but tomorrow they’re going to try again if they don’t get help.”

Irene Thomas contributed reporting to this story.

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Do you really want a second chance if you're addicted to heroin though? Just prolonging the misery and destruction it seems
By Lets go mets (320), Southampton on Sep 5, 15 11:08 AM
So the "safe" way to be a heroin addict is to always have a buddy with a Narcan kit on hand?

This is relevant to Southampton Town -- how?
By Frank Wheeler (1735), Northampton on Sep 5, 15 12:23 PM
This is relevant because heroin is becoming more popular and easier to access across all age groups and demographics. In an area where EMS is all volunteer, help is not a few minutes away in most cases. Police departments are receiving training and beginning to carry Narcan intra-nasal kits and can become the lifeline to those who are overdosed on any opiate based narcotics, which includes heroin, and various prescription painkillers. Saving lives is ALWAYS relevant, no matter what town you live ...more
By gaelic_wolf (4), Warwick on Sep 5, 15 4:04 PM
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