Carrying Narcan, a community call to action

Apr 10, 2018

Narcan kits often include gloves, breathing masks for CPR and two doses of Narcan. Pictured above is a nasal spray version.
Credit Caitlin Whyte / WXXI News

On a Thursday evening at Gates Town Hall, the parking lot is busy. Coffee is brewing and someone is cutting up a pan of homemade brownies. Boy Scouts in full uniform run to a meeting down the hall.

It doesn’t feel like a place where people are about to be trained in how to use potentially lifesaving medication. But everyone in this room has come here to learn how to administer Narcan, also known as naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids and can reverse an overdose.

As the number of opioid-related overdoses and deaths increases across the country, the call to have Narcan in the hands of as many people as possible is becoming more urgent.

Once you’re trained, it’s legal to carry and use; administering Narcan is protected under the Good Samaritan law. And if you’re not sure if a person has overdosed or what they’ve taken, giving them Narcan doesn’t have adverse effects.

David Attridge started the trainings in Gates. He is the executive director of Recovery Now New York, and he said an overdose can happen anywhere.

A trainer hands out Narcan kits and certifications after a training.
Credit Caitlin Whyte / WXXI News

“My niece, for instance, was just driving out of the public food market," Attridge said, "and when she pulled out, she saw a girl laying on the ground and went over and could see she was unresponsive and wasn’t sure if it was an overdose, but did it anyway and it brought the girl back. Unfortunately, we’re running into that more and more.”

Many public libraries have found themselves on the front lines of this epidemic. Gates Public Library Director Greg Benoit said someone can stay in a library all day and it doesn’t look suspicious; you might not notice if someone is under the influence if they’re keeping to themselves.

Gates is one of a few libraries in Rochester, and one of many around the country, that has decided to stock Narcan and train staff in administering it.

“We’re not clinicians. We’re trying our best to meet the need of the community, and unfortunately, this is a really ugly need.”

Assistant Director Anna Souvannavong, who helped develop Narcan education programs here, said libraries are a representation of their community.

“For us, we’re responding to that. And I don’t think it’s any different for us ... you know the fact that we have AED kits here. We’re prepared and trained for CPR. I think we’re all on board with our staff, together, that we would prefer to be trained to do that rather than stand here and watch someone die in front of us.”

Adrienne Pettinelli, Henrietta Public Library director, said libraries are places where people in crisis go to look for answers.
Credit Caitlin Whyte / WXXI News

Adrienne Pettinelli is the director of the Henrietta Public Library. She said libraries offer much more than just story time and summer camps; they’re also places where people in crisis go to look for answers.

“You know I’m a librarian, my specialty is literacy, children’s literacy in particular. But I can’t look at something like this and look at how easy it is to potentially help somebody who is surely somebody’s mother, father, sister, brother, child, you know? And not help them.”

Her library is also developing policy regarding Narcan.

But community organizers and family members aren’t the only ones pushing for the expanded presence of Narcan. It’s promoted by the CDC, which said expanding Narcan use could reduce drug overdose deaths and save lives. Monroe County also has stepped up its efforts, offering Narcan training to town and village workforces.

Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza said we’re in the midst of an all-hands-on-deck situation, and trained professionals can’t be on every corner. That’s where the rest of us can step in.

”We want and we need and we already have been taking care of one another for a very long time," Mendoza said. "We do this in our families, our homes, our churches and our schools. We just want to expand the scope of what we do to care for one another to include this crisis that, by every measure, shows no signs of letting up.”

In his opinion, this training is something everyone to the best of their ability should do. Right now, their focus is on outreach; making people aware of classes and trying to eliminate the stigma toward addiction.

“These are people, these are loved ones, these are friends and family who deserve love and compassion and we want to do everything we can to help them.”

This story is part of a WXXI News series on the ripple effects of the opioid epidemic. The project is a collaboration with ideastream in Cleveland and Oregon Public Broadcasting.