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Administering Narcan Can Save Lives

Let’s talk about Narcan and how it can be used to save lives in crises involving heroin/opioid overdoses.   And, it also provides other positive aspects of a harm reduction approach, such as reaching out a hand for the person who is ready to seek services.  Not only does the administration of Narcan keep a person alive to enter into recovery another day, but the intervention itself  provides an  opportunity for a conversation about engaging in treatment.  In our experience in Boulder, we have seen people enter into services after a Narcan reversal.  Even just giving training on the use of the medication, and engaging active opioid users to be part of a safety net in the community, opens the door for entering recovery.

At the very first session of Narcan training and distribution, there were about a dozen community members, some active opioid users, others, in recovery, all whom were participating in Safe Syringe exchange.  At the end of that session, several of the participants were tearful and expressed pride in being part of an effort to save lives.  And, a few weeks later, one of the participants, who tried, unfortunately in vain, to save the life of a friend, checked herself into the detox and residential program, ready to make a change in her own life.  We have had reports of at least a dozen reversals in the community.

Our goal to have NARCAN kits available to every first-responder in Boulder County.  We began with our two main Boulder City responders, Boulder PD and the University of Colorado PD.  We have also reached out, trained and equipped family members of people who abuse opioids. We have given information about how to access Narcan to our own employees, knowing that statistically, at least some of them will also have friends or family members at risk of overdose.

To carry out this initiative, Mental Health Partners and Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) are collaborating to maximize our efforts.  BCPH, which manages the Safe Syringe and HIV Prevention programming, provides much of the training for first responders, as well as the general public, on the proper and effective use of Narcan. MHP, which runs a 24/7 detox and recovery facility, provides much of the actual needle exchange services, and makes an effort in each exchange to share information about Narcan and treatment options. Funding for the kits and the overall initiative has come from Federal Block Grant dollars, donor contributions and in-kind services.

Providing Narcan to the first responders, those most likely to come upon a person experiencing an overdose, absolutely saves lives.  Fire Officers and Paramedics have been carrying Narcan for some time, but the addition of law enforcement means that they will not have to wait for an ambulance to arrive to begin the life-saving process.  In fact, after training the first group of officers, one of the officers who had initially declined to participate in the program, returned to sign up, as he had exactly that experience, waiting for the paramedic to arrive while performing CPR on a nonresponsive person. BPD has already had three reversals since receiving the kits in late spring. The number of reversals and lives saved will continue to go up, and the number of lives tragically lost will go down.

Narcan is just the initial step, however.   Without a warm hand to offer options for treatment and support, the moment of motivation may be lost.  So, making sure our officers carry referral information, and that the hospitals also take the time to offer a brief intervention, is part of the overall Narcan initiative.

Narcan is a harm reduction tool, allowing us to save a life, intervene and provide a non-judgmental outreach to folks in need of services.  It is also just one tool, and we need to keep moving further upstream, before the OD, to prevention and earlier intervention services.  And, once in treatment, we need to ensure that we are offering the best evidence –based practices available. In many cases, this will include Medication Assisted Therapies.  Be sure to check out SAMHSA, NIDA, NIATx and other national resources for further information.

In Boulder County, we are proud of our efforts, and know that any other community can accomplish the same outcomes.

Ann C. Noonan, MA, CAC III, LPC
Interim VP, Acute Care
Program Development Director,
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Integration
Mental Health Partners

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