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Event to provide education about overdoses, free naloxone training

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Kimberly Paynter
/
WHYY

Overdose deaths have increased nationwide since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but medications like naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose before it becomes fatal. That's why the Onala Recovery Center will hold a training on Nov. 1 to teach people how to handle an opioid overdose.

According to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 96,000 overdose deaths between the start of the pandemic and March 2021.

In Allegheny County last year, there were 690 overdose deaths, up from 571 in 2019.

Alice Bell, the overdose prevention project director at Prevention Point Pittsburgh, said the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems that may lead to increased drug use.

“There’s a lot of fear and trauma, desperation … issues of poverty, racism, inequality, insecurity, instability,” she said.

The pandemic also resulted in more isolation for many people, and using drugs alone is a risk factor for overdose deaths. Having someone nearby who knows how to administer naloxone, also known as the brand name Narcan, can be the difference between life and death.

“There’s this misunderstanding that Narcan is for people who use opioids,” said Jennifer Bloodworth, an administrator at Onala Recovery Center. “But really, the most important people we want to have Narcan is [those] who are not using opioids and are around people who are.”

The event will include a discussion about some of the myths and stigma that surround opioid use disorder, as well as a hands-on training where participants will learn how to administer Narcan nasal spray.

Bloodworth noted that substance use disorder can affect anyone.

“This is not just for a specific set of people,” she said. “There are people in every single community struggling with opioid use disorder and who are at risk for overdose.”

Pairing free Narcan distribution and training with other forms of harm reduction, such as syringe services programs, is one of the most effective ways to reduce overdose deaths, said Bell.

“Finding people in the places where they are is a really, really important component to getting it to the people who need it,” she said.

Bloodworth hopes the training dispels some people’s misconceptions about substance use disorder and medicines that reverse overdoses.

“Being trained and holding Narcan is not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing, and it’s a simple thing to just have that extra thing in your car, or in your purse, or by your front door. But it can change someone’s life,” she said. “[B]ecause dead people cannot recover.”

The event starts at 2 p.m. Monday. Find more information here.