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Celebration Marks Lives Saved In Opioid Epidemic

Sarah Boden
Kevin Kelly and wife Kelly, mayor of Turtle Creek, at the "Survivors and Revivers" event. Kelly was saved twicewith naloxone and will be celebrating 11 years of recovery from opioid use on Wednesday, August 28.

People were given free naloxone, the medication that can revive someone from an opioid overdose, at an event at the City County building in downtown Pittsburgh, Tuesday afternoon. 

Mostly workers from local government and nonprofits attended the “Honoring Survivors and Revivers: International Overdose Awareness Day 2019.” The celebration, which was co-hosted by the mayor's office and Prevention Point Pittsburgh, recognized those who have been revived from an overdose, and those who revived them. 

“I’ve personally talked to at least a couple thousand people who have saved someone with naloxone that they’ve gotten from us,” said Alice Bell, Prevention Point’s overdose prevention coordinator. “I’ve heard so many statements like, ‘You don’t know what it means to have this, and not have to live in fear of watching my best friend die.’”

It is believed that increased availability of the medication is at least part of the reason for the decline in fatal drug overdoses in Allegheny County over the past two years. 

Pennsylvanians have been able to purchase naloxone over-the-counter since 2015. Its availability has been increased by it being distributed by nonprofits and governmental institutions, including the Allegheny County Jail. 

Some argue that naloxone enables a person’s addiction, and that taxpayer dollars shouldn’t go to its purchase and distribution.

“Here’s a newsflash, dead people can’t recover,” said Kenneth Aquiline, one of the event’s speakers.

Aquiline is a Marine Corp veteran of the Iraq War who began using opioids after a head injury he sustained on the battlefield. After he was discharged, Aquiline suffered from PTSD and depression.

“You never know that person’s life that you save, the impact that they may have on yourself, your community, your society, or your country,” he said. “Besides all that, it’s just the human thing to do.”

Today, Aquiline is in long-term recovery. He studies political science at Duquesne University, is the head of security at Spirit Hall and Lodge, and also an intern for State Rep. Sara Innamorato.  

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.