Overdoses Can Happen Anywhere, So Naloxone Becomes A Part Of First Aid Kits

Jun 29, 2018

In January, 39-year-old Damian Chadwick died at a Bethel Park barbershop a little before 2 p.m. According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, the overdose death was due to a combination of cocaine, alcohol and the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

As the opioid epidemic rages on, more and more places from libraries to Goodwill stores are keeping the anti-overdose drug naloxone on hand. 

Since September, all YMCAs of Greater Pittsburgh have had somoene on duty who’s trained to administer naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose by restarting a person’s breathing.

So far, staff at the Allegheny YMCA on the North Side have revived one person with the medication.

“To me it’s up there with CPR and first aid,” said Erica Gadelmeyer, the operations director at the Allegheny Y. "You don't have any background at all to administrate it ... they've made it very, very simple."

Erica Gadelmeyer, operations director at the Allegheny Y, holds a box of naloxone nasal spray.
Credit Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

The kind of Naloxone the Y stocks is a nasal spray. To administer, lay the overdose victim on their back, tilt their head and spray the medication up their nose.

“Everybody should know [how to use it,]” said Muhammad Williams, who works at the Allegheny Y’s Welcome Center. “We’ve had a couple people who passed away in here and if we had time to do that, we would have been OK.”

Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said she’s now pushing for places like grocery stores to keep the medication with their first aid kids.

“Particularly if you have a public bathroom that could be a place where people are shooting up,” she said.

One organization contacted for this story didn’t want to participate, citing concerns that publicity might increase the number of overdoses at their locations.

Alice Bell coordinates the overdose prevention program for Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that works with injection drug users. She said whether naloxone is available doesn’t influence someone’s decision to use opioids.

“Unfortunately, for people who are dependent on opiates, they have to use them every day,” said Bell.

Bell said the people she works with are more inclined to ask for naloxone because the opioids that are sold today are incredibly lethal, when compared to what was available two decades ago.

“I’ve talked to people who say, 'I’ve been using heroin for 20 years and I’ve never overdosed. But now I’m scared and I want to have naloxone,’” she said.

Efforts to make naloxone more widely available might be paying off.

While 2017 had the highest number of overdose fatalities on record, the average number of deaths fell every quarter in 2017. That means fewer people died toward the end of the year than died in the beginning of the year.

“One could argue, maybe people have gotten better at being able to figure out that there is naloxone and therefore temper their use in some way,” said Hacker.

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