Sonnet Gravina, of Amsterdam, said she has a friend whose 20-something son was twice saved by Narcan.
“He’s alive and recovering,” Gravina said. “It’s been a year and a half now. He’s doing well. He’s clean.”
Gravina said that personal connection to opioid overdose is part of why she wanted to attend a free naloxone training event held Wednesday night in Amsterdam and hosted by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara. The training, at the Century Club of Amsterdam, was held in conjunction with Senator Michelle Hinchey, Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffrey T. Smith, the Amsterdam Police Department and the Montgomery County Department of Health.
Nineteen community members were trained on how to recognize, respond to and reverse an opioid overdose using naloxone, an opioid antagonist medication administered via nasal spray. Attendees were also given overdose kits that included a box containing two doses of Narcan, rubber gloves, informational pamphlets and a Fentanyl test strip to detect if the harmful substance was present.
A big takeaway was just how easy Narcan is to administer. The entire training session lasted only about 30 minutes.
Santabarbara said his prior training experience left him feeling empowered.
“Until I had the training myself, I thought I can’t do that, I’m not a medical professional, I can’t reverse an overdose,” Santabarbara said. “That’s not true. We just showed you today that we can.”
Administering Narcan is a relatively straightforward process. It starts with identifying an opioid overdose by looking for signs such as a person being unresponsive to touch, breathing slowly, or having “pinpoint pupils,” which involves the center part of their eye being very small. Then, after opening a box of Narcan and tilting back the person’s head, insert the nozzle into either nostril and firmly press the red plunger to deliver the medicine. Next, call for emergency help and roll the person onto their side, with their hands supporting their head and their knee bent to prevent them from rolling onto their stomach.
Narcan is available to the public, with 97% of insurance plans allowing access, according to the manufacturer.
“Anyone can purchase Narcan Nasal Spray directly from a pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription. All major pharmacy chains (such as CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid) stock Narcan Nasal Spray, so it’s convenient for you to obtain,” the company’s website reads.
People who administer Narcan are protected under New York State’s Good Samaritan Law. Still, Santabarbara acknowledged that people may be uncomfortable thinking about opioid overdose and therefore reluctant to attend a Narcan training session. But the assemblyman said the crisis is not going away soon. Numbers from the New York State Department of Health show the demand for Narcan is on the rise in Montgomery and Fulton counties.
In 2019 there were 636 two-dose cartons of Narcan shipped to registered Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs in Fulton and Montgomery counties combined (276 in Fulton and 360 in Montgomery), according to state data. In 2020, the two-county total was 912 two-dose cartons (504 in Fulton and 408 in Montgomery). In 2021 through November 5, there were 984 two-dose Narcan cartons shipped to programs in the two counties (456 in Fulton and 528 in Montgomery), state numbers show.
“It’s not a pleasant topic, but it is a reality. It’s affecting families, it’s affecting friends, it’s affecting neighborhoods almost on a daily basis,” Santabarbara said.
Opioid overdoses are affecting people like the son of Gravina’s friend. That son’s addiction started with pain meds and then eventually transitioned to heroin, Gravina said. She explained the friend’s son was a happy kid, but after taking pain meds he needed more and more chemicals just to feel “normal.”
“To reach that level it was more and more and more, and you start to look at the cost of it, and then he turned to heroin. That’s how it happened,” she said.
Gravina said she hopes the stigma around addiction continues to diminish.
“There was a stigma at one point that people thought, oh, they are just addicts, they can just quit. But it happens to a lot of people that you wouldn’t expect it to happen to,” Gravina said. “It’s common. It’s very common.”
Because opioid addiction is prevalent, the need for a widespread response is paramount. Santabarbara said legislation and opioid settlement funds are, of course, part of the solution. But so too is having partners on the ground. Those partnerships include sheriff’s offices and county officials, he said, but they must include members of the public, as well––hence training sessions like the one held on Wednesday.
“We need people to not be helpless. You have to recognize it and know how to respond,” Santabarbara said. “You can actually reverse an overdose and save someone’s life.”
Edward Rush, who lives in Amsterdam, said he attended the training for that very reason.
“I’ve known people who have lost friends and family members,” he said. “This is something small I can do to try to help out, if necessary. Hopefully, I never have to.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.