PRINCETOWN -- The U.S. surgeon general last week issued a call for all Americans to learn how to reverse an opioid overdose, but the smallest town in Schenectady County was already on the case.
Princetown, with a population that barely exceeds 2,000, will offer a state-administered naloxone training class for residents on May 9, after a March training class for town employees was well-received. The class is geared to those who might encounter an overdose victim, but any town resident can take it.
Similar classes are offered by drug-abuse treatment programs and emergency medical corps, but to have it sponsored by a municipality is unusual.
Naloxone, which is also known by the brand name Narcan, can be administered nasally to somebody who is unconscious; if they have passed out due to an overdose of heroin or other narcotics, it will re-awaken them. If the problem isn't an overdose, it does the recipient no harm.
"I carry one of those kits now in all my cars," said Town Councilman James Pavoldi, a retired Schenectady city firefighter who is organizing the class. "I know people who have gone down and died. It is happening right around here. It's happening everywhere."
Schenectady County saw 29 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the state Health Department. That was the most of any county in the Capital Region. Nationwide, the surgeon general said overdose deaths have doubled since 2010, from 21,000 in 2010 to 42,000 in 2016. That is more deaths than are caused by auto accidents. All indications are statistics for 2017 will be even more grim.
Heroin is stronger than it used to be, and it is also getting mixed with fentanyl -- not prescription pain patches, but illegally mixed batches of unpredictable concentrations and purity, according to the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.
"People aren't killing themselves on purpose; they're doing it by accident," Pavoldi said.
During an overdose, the drugs shut down the respiratory system. Naloxone can restore a victim's breathing.
When he was an active firefighter in the 1980s and 1990s, Pavoldi said the drug could only be administered intravenously, but now it can be given in a one-shot nasal spray.
Overdose victims who have been given naloxone can wake up disoriented and violent, and the training class covers how to respond.
"You can just have [naloxone], but it's good if you've taken the class," Pavoldi said.
The May 9 class is free but is limited to town residents. Pavoldi said Town Hall can probably accommodate about 40 people. Those who take the class will receive two naloxone kits, as well as instructions in how to use them. The state, through a federal grant, is paying for the kits and instruction, so Pavoldi said there is no cost to the town.
The town has also offered recent classes in CPR, as part of a more general effort to have residents prepared for medical emergencies.
"In the town of Princetown, we're just far enough away from stuff that having someone on hand who knows what to do can make a tremendous difference," Pavoldi said.
The class will run from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Princetown town complex, 165 Princetown Plaza, just off Route 7 near Exit 1 of Interstate-88. Those who plan to attend are asked to contact Pavoldi at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 518-356-3866.