“Everybody in this room tonight will be touched or has been touched” by the opioid epidemic, John Faulhaber, of Atlantic Beach, told an audience of roughly 30 at Lawrence High School. His son, Theo, died of a heroin overdose in 2015, at age 36.
Nassau County had 70 fatal opioid overdoses last year, according to Nassau County Police Department Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Meanwhile, there were 310 non-fatal overdoses, and county police officers administered naloxone, also known as Narcan, a drug used to stop overdoses, 625 times last year.
Faulhaber and Ryder were speaking at a Narcan training session in Lawrence High’s Little Theater on Jan. 31. Every attendee received a Narcan kit, which has a two-year shelf life.
The commissioner also provided attendees with information about the department’s newest tools to battle the opioid crisis. The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program was unveiled at a news conference the following day, but Ryder gave the audience an early preview.
First responders can now enter information about an overdose victim, such as age and the drug taken, into the app so they can quickly call up overdose trends in the area. “With the OD mapping, we can map live on the fly,” Ryder said. “So if I was sitting at home and I get three to four overdoses in the Inwood section in a four- or five-hour period, then I need to be alerted immediately that I’ve got a crisis. And that crisis may be that there’s bad heroin out there, and if I’ve got bad heroin out there, I’ve got to notify the public. I’ve got to let the drug users know, ‘Bad batch, guys, stop what you’re doing.’”
Isaac Mayo, a special education teacher at the high school, said the reason he attended is that when working around young people, he should be prepared. “We work in a high school with teenagers,” he said. “And if we see something happening, we want to be able to take care of this.”
Although opioid addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age, young people, particularly high school students, are most vulnerable, officials say. Hailey Quezada, a Lawrence High freshman, attended the seminar even though minors cannot purchase or carry Narcan legally. “I know that students in my grade use drugs,” she said, “and I just felt that if someday, God forbid, something happened, then I’d be prepared.”
Dr. Olga Karantoni, representing the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, demonstrated how Narcan is administered. OASAS oversees one of the nation’s largest addiction service systems, with nearly 1,600 prevention, treatment and recovery programs. Its chemical dependence treatment programs assist roughly 240,000 people each year. OASAS plans, develops and regulates the state’s system of chemical dependence and gambling treatment agencies.
The Narcan kits contained two nasal applicators, one for each nostril. To ensure that all attendees could save a life, Karantoni demonstrated all possible methods for administration of naloxone, including how to assemble a different nasal kit and how to inject the drug with a syringe if that is the only method available.
Research conducted by professors and doctors at the North Texas University Health Science Center, the University of Florida and Emory University, published in the American Journal of Public Health last year, showed that after recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, opioid overdoses there declined 6 percent between 2014 and 2016.
State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller (R-Atlantic Beach), who organized the workshop, said she opposes legalizing recreational marijuana, but believes that a well-regulated and expanded medicinal program could keep some people off opioids. She uses cannabidiol oil to treat her son Oliver’s seizures. “I think if they’re prescribing [medicinal marijuana] responsibly and dosing it correctly, it can pull [people] away from the use of opioids,” Miller said. “It’s not as addictive, and it can curb pain without the need for opioids.”
As the seminar ended, several attendees said they felt better prepared to help in the event of an overdose, although Faulhaber said that he would like to see a larger turnout. “People just don’t realize — their heads are in the ground,” he said. “They don’t want to realize that this can start in middle school, and it knows no socioeconomic bounds.”
Information about the availability of Narcan and the N-CAP reimbursement program, in which the state covers up to $40 in Narcan co-payments, can be found on the state Department of Health website, www.health.ny.gov.
The video shown at the meeting, which focused on how to administer Narcan and the potential warning signs of an overdose, can be viewed at vimeo.com/4495088.
Have an opinion about drug prevention? Send your letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.