When Shelter Island Library Director Terry Lucas received an email inquiry from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services seeking hosts for an Opioid Overdose Prevention program, she didn’t think twice.
“The opioid crisis continues to grow and, while we hope the general public is spared from it and we hope we never have to face it at the library, we want people to be prepared to act,” Ms. Lucas said.
Thomas Fealey, Deputy Chief of Operations Suffolk County EMS Department of Health Services, came to the Library on Sept. 7 to educate a group of nine Islanders on how to use Naloxone, an “opioid-antagonist” medication, to save lives. For some attendees, the reasons they wanted to learn these life-saving techniques hit far too close to home.
In 2018 there were 72,000 opioid overdoses in the United States, and 310 overdoses in Suffolk County alone, according to the county. Program data indicated that in 2018 there were more opioid deaths than in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined, with Suffolk County having the most combined opioid deaths in the state of New York.
Since its inception in 2013, the county’s health department has conducted 482 classes, or about 75 classes per year, according to Mr. Fealey. The health department offers the program to any organization interested in hosting.
“In addition to county employees and multiple public safety organizations, we’ve provided this training for school districts, library districts, small businesses, and civic organizations,” Mr. Fealey said. “We’re always looking to offer trainings to additional organizations or groups who are interested in hosting the presentation.”
Early discovery of an overdose, early Naloxone administration, early 911 involvement, and early Emergency Department referral to treatment is known as the “Focused Community Chain of Survival.” The county has seen survival rates increase in the years since the program has been offered.
“The number of administrations and lives saved through the use of Naloxone has increased each year the program has been offered,” Mr. Fealey said. “We attribute this to the now widespread availability of public access to Naloxone, better awareness and education on how to recognize an overdose, and increased knowledge of the risk factors that may lead to an overdose.”
Program attendees learned overdose statistics; which types of drugs and combinations might cause an overdose; how overdoses occur; overdose risk factors; how to recognize an overdose; and information about naloxone components, usage, administration and kit replacement options. Attendees were also informed which drugs Naloxone is effective with as an opioid antagonist, and which are not.
In suspected overdose cases, where it isn’t clear which drug the victim took, they were reminded to err on the side of giving the Naloxone — “When in doubt, Naloxone.”
Each attendee left with a Naloxone overdose prevention kit, which contained two Narcan™ nasal spray devices, one pair of nitrile gloves, two New York State Department of Health reporting forms, and one certificate of completion card that legalizes possession of a prescribed medication.
After the program, some attendees were asked why they decided to participate. A tearful Claudia Hendricks shared that she had lost her daughter to “a mix of heroin and fentanyl and I want to have the kit so I can help others.”
Jodi Bentivegna commented that this is a “generational thing amongst friends and family and I want to be able to help.”
Bill Packard explained that “as a physician, it’s important to keep up with current treatment options. It’s important for physicians to know how to administer Naloxone and most of them have never administered it.”
Katie Potter said that her husband encouraged her to attend. “He’s a physician and thinks every adult should take the course and carry the kit — it’s a civic responsibility.”
Ms. Lucas encourages the general public to attend such programs, and staff members are also encouraged and paid to attend prevention programs such as bleeding prevention, CPR, and other courses provided by Mary Kanarvogel at the Shelter Island School.
“I don’t have a personal story to share about the opioid crisis,” Ms. Lucas said. “But other libraries have experienced overdoses in their bathrooms, foyers, and other locations, and prepared staff members have been able to save their lives.”