Local family intervention seen as solution to opioid overdose deaths
BP Adams joins NYC Department of Health in forum series
While large numbers of Brooklynites protested the loss of life in Crown Heights, many others gathered inside the New Lots Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to learn how to save lives in case of opiate overdoses.
“My cup runneth over!” Nan Blackshear, director of community development for the Borough President’s Office, declared as people from all over Brooklyn continued to fill the auditorium on April 5. “Please bear with us,” she said as she ran off to find additional seating.
“I came from Bensonhurst,” Maria Campanella said. Widely known in her neighborhood as “The Ice Cream Girl,” Campanella drives an ice cream truck, continuing a legacy started by her father decades past. Her work provides her with a unique perspective on the community. “My kids grow up on the streets,” she explained. “They start out maybe with weed, then some of them escalate. They don’t think it’s a big deal, but then they lose a friend. I’m here to try to stop that if I can.”
Nearby sat Beatrice Diggs Rodriguez wearing a “Camp Sunshine” sweatshirt and knitted yarmulke. “I’m a chaplain,” she explained. “I came from Clinton Hill to be here tonight. This has been going on since the beginning of time, but now people have the opportunity to intervene.”
Another sponsor of the class, which is the first in a series of nine, was City Councilmember Rafael Espinal. “This epidemic is really hitting us all,” Espinal said. “Having more people informed and aware means that more lives can be saved … Just know that the city is here and doing everything it can.”
“In 2016, nearly 1,400 New Yorkers lost their lives to overdoses,” Dr. Hillary V. Kunins, assistant commissioner at NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) announced. “Nearly half of the people who lost their lives were from Brooklyn or the Bronx. That’s more than were lost by traffic accidents, homicide and suicides combined!”
“I began my policing career in 1984,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams explained. “Those of you who remember what crack did to our community then. [It] devastated our community … the goal is that we want to rid this of our community and not witness more devastation.”
Herbert Quinones, Overdose Prevention Trainer at the NYC Health Department, began the presentation by asking, “What is an opiate?”
With style and energy born of long experience, Quinones quickly ran through some of the more common forms of prescribed and purchased drugs. Opiates, of course, are natural or synthetic substances that bind to opiate receptors in the brain, and are chemically similar to alkaloid compounds derived from Papaver somniferum, or the opium poppy.
After describing some of the effects of opioids, Quinones introduced naloxone, an opiate antagonist. Using projections, he deftly demonstrated the process by which naloxone competes with opiates in the brain, reversing their effect.
“Suppose I’ve overdosed on cocaine,” Quinones said. “Would you give me naloxone?”
“No!” several voices called out.
But, Quinones, went on to caution, some drugs obtained on the streets, especially benzodiazepine tranquilizers such as Xanax, now contain Fentanyl, a very potent, fast acting opiate, that will respond to dosing with naloxone.
“Fentanyl is very deceptive,” Quinones explained. “It doesn’t have a particular scent or taste … Fentanyl has become a very big player in overdoses recently … it has changed the entire dynamic because it is so fast acting.”
Quinones outlined an intervention process that began with speaking loudly and shaking a person suspected of overdose, asking him or her to respond. Failing that, a rescuer presses knuckles hard against the sternum.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“Shake, shout and rub!” the audience declared.
If that fails, then it’s time to call 911 and administer naloxone. The kits available at New Lots that evening featured intra-nasal naloxone.
With certain specific limitations, New York State 911 Good Samaritan Law protects rescuers who use DOHMH kits from liability deriving from their intervention.
“It’s not addictive, non-allergic and doesn’t develop tolerance,” Quinones said of the naloxone, which is also known by its brand name as “Narcan.” “But for someone who has used long-term it might put them into sudden withdrawal,” he cautioned.
“Remember,” he said, “these statistics you’ve heard. These are real people — your friends and neighbors and family.”
The second training session was held on Tuesday at the Sheepshead Bay Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, 2636 East 14th Street.
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