As heroin addiction reaches epidemic proportions in Delaware, ordinary citizens are now saving the lives of overdose victims.
Trained community members are using naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose, to revive their loved ones.
On Wednesday, Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services announced it has received the first reports of community members who have administered the medication successfully.
“Heroin and the misuse of prescription painkillers are so dangerous that in order to connect people to treatment for their addiction, sometimes we must save their lives first,” said Rita Landgraf, Secretary of DHSS in a statement.
“The new community naloxone bill, which Governor Markell signed into law last summer, is giving people in Delaware the opportunity to save their loved ones’ lives. Our hope is that people in the throes of addiction will now embrace treatment for their disease and the opportunity for a lasting recovery.”
In 2014, 185 people died from suspected overdoses in Delaware, or about one person every other day. Many of those overdoses were the result of heroin or prescription painkillers.
That same year, according to the Division of Public Heath, paramedics administered naloxone 1,244 times. The antidote also is used in emergency rooms.
In June 2014, Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, signed into law a bill that allows the expansion of the use of naloxone by trained community members. Since the law was passed, almost 300 people have been trained to use the medication.
Individuals who participate in the state’s Syringe Exchange Program in Wilmington are trained by Brandywine Counseling staff and then given auto-injector naloxone donated by kaléo; a Richmond, Va. company that manufactures the medication Evzio.
On Aug. 30, a syringe exchange program client saved a friend’s life after she overdosed, reports Domenica Personti, Brandywine Counseling’s director of adolescent services and prevention.
“(The client was) so grateful to have been offered the training and medication in order to save her friend’s life,” she said in a statement.
On Sept. 7, a second client used naloxone to revive her girlfriend after she overdosed, Personti said. Both women are expected to visit Brandywine Counseling to be assessed for treatment services.
“By expanding naloxone access, we have equipped individuals with a life-saving tool in response to the terrible outcome often associated with opiate use,” Personti said. “Because of this, two individuals were able to go home to their loved ones.”
Police officers have also been successful carrying naloxone, and school nurses became equipped with the medication this month.
Earlier this year DHSS and atTAcK addiction, a grassroots advocacy group in Delaware, helped facilitate the donation of 2,000 naloxone units from kaléo.
“atTAcK addiction is extremely grateful that our partnership with DHSS is saving lives,” said David Humes, one of the group’s founding members.
“We will continue to advocate for effective policy changes that will increase and expand treatment options for those suffering with substance use disorder. Where there is life, there is hope of recovery from the disease of addiction.”
Brandywine Counseling’s next community naloxone training class is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at Stubbs Elementary School in Wilmington.
Subsequent sessions are at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 22, at New Castle County Police Department Headquarters in New Castle, and at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Ocean View Police Department in Ocean View.