by Niki Cleary, Tulalip News
It’s the time of year that we gather together with our family, reminisce about favorite memories and create new ones. While the holidays are a time of love and generosity, for those down on their luck they can be a painful reminder of better times. Holidays can also bring the added stress of creating the perfect holiday experience (usually accompanied by consumer debt) and they can heighten emotions grief and loss. Many cope with the stress and pain by leaning on prescription drugs or opiates.
Too often deaths in our community are a result of drug overdose. According to a report released early this year, one out of every five heroin deaths in the State occurred in Snohomish County (you can view the report http://www.snohd.org/Records-Reports/Data-Reports). Combined with the fact that drug use spikes during the holidays, chances are someone you know may be in danger of opiate overdose this season.
Other than abstinence, there’s no surefire way to prevent overdose, and the stigma surrounding addiction often prevents people from being willing to even discuss the possibility of a family member’s use or potential overuse of drugs. Tulalip citizen Rico Madison lost his mother to an opiate overdose; the experience has made him passionate about changing the culture of hiding drug addiction.
“I do this because everybody has someone close to them,” he said. “Everyone has been in a situation where they rejected someone who asked for help, or someone they wish they could have helped.”
One of the primary tools to offset the harm of drug addiction is Narcan, also known as Naloxone.
“Narcan is a way to help without enabling,” Rico continued. “It’s like a fire extinguisher, it can’t hurt, it can only help.”
Rico campaigns constantly to encourage everyone to purchase a Narcan kit. Most insurances will cover at least part of the cost.
The simple explanation of a deadly opiate overdose is that the effects of opiates cause your brain to shut down the normally automatic impulse to breathe. Without oxygen to the body, the heart stops and brain damage and death follow. Narcan is a narcotic antagonist; it blocks opiate receptors, which can temporarily halt the effects of the opiate.
Tulalip Pharmacist Jane Jacobson explained, “This is not a fix, it’s a last resort. A dose will wear off in 30-90 minutes, so you still need to call 911, because when it wears off the patient will be back into overdose.”
She described the ‘look’ of an opiate overdose, “They may look like they’re sleeping. They may be breathing very slowly. They may breathe in a long, slow gasp, followed by a long pause. They may have blue or gray lips or may be unresponsive. When a person is only breathing 5-10 breaths a minute, you are looking at brain damage.
“If you even think someone may be overdosing on opiates administer Narcan immediately,” she instructed. “It only works on opiates, if someone is overdosing on something else, this won’t hurt them. There are two doses in your kit. If there’s no effect within two to three minutes, use the other syringe, start rescue breaths and call 911.”
Due to Rico’s activism, Tulalip enacted the Lois Luella Jones Good Samaritan Law, a law that offers limited exemption from prosecution if a person calls 911 for help with an overdose.
“With the Good Samaritan Law you will not be arrested for drug paraphernalia, underage drinking, or non-violent misdemeanors,” explained Jane. “Sometimes addicts want to help, but they don’t call 911 because they’re afraid they will be arrested.”
Narcan kits are available at the Tulalip Pharmacy. Tulalip employee insurance covers the cost with only $8.00 co-pay, and Washington’s Applecare covers the kits at 100%. For the uninsured, the kits cost $105 for non-Tulalips and $65 for Tulalip citizens.
“We have a lot of kits in stock, made up and ready to go,” said Jane. She pointed out that the kits, while generally sought after by families and friends of those suffering addiction, are useful for many populations.
“We also recommend people on chronic pain management medications have kits on hand as well,” she said. “Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s here if you do. It’s better to have a kit just in case than be in a situation where you could have used it and saw a friend or family member pass away when you could have gotten something to save them.”
If you have a kit and use one dose, replace it even though there’s another dose still in the kit.
“You always want the second dose,” said Jane, reminding that sometimes a single dose isn’t enough to halt the overdose. Each kit comes with a pharmacist’s consultation and purchasers watch a video to explain how to use it. Narcan is prescribed as a four-day supply, so a client can pick up a new kit every four days if they choose.
“If people want to come in and get kits as a family, we can do that too,” said Jane.
“I don’t want to go to another funeral because of overdose,” said Rico. “I want people to understand that it’s easy, it’s the difference between life and death and it only takes 20 minutes.”
A fire extinguisher, a life preserver, a first aid/CPR class; we don’t think twice about most tools designed to save lives. If you can learn something or buy something and save someone’s life, it’s a no-brainer, right? Narcan is no different. This holiday season, while you’re shopping and heading to and from dinners and holiday parties, please think about scheduling a trip to the Tulalip Pharmacy to pick up a Narcan kit. It may be that the greatest gift you give this year, is saving someone’s life.