On Tuesday, the Burlington City Municipal Alliance, in partnership with Urban Treatment Associates, a drug prevention and treatment facility in Camden offered Burlington County, New Jersey residents a free training seminar on how to administer the life-saving medicine Narcan. In the midst of a seemingly unassailable opioid epidemic that continues to claim lives in Burlington County and the entire state of New Jersey, where the number of overdose deaths reached a total of 1,587 in 2015, harm reduction approaches and tools are absolutely paramount.
Burlington County residents, leaders, law enforcement and emergency services personnel participated in the seminar which took place at Herman T. Costello Lyceum Hall in Burlington City, in an effort to learn how to effectively and correctly implement harm reduction interventions in their hard-hit communities. Joanna Dugan, program coordinator at Urban Treatment said that from park bench to Park Avenue, opiate addiction doesn't discriminate and takes control of a whole person's being. The two-hour Narcan seminar was focused on preparedness and consisted of Joanna Dugan teaching participants how to identify and properly respond to an opioid-related overdose which, she explained, blocks neurotransmitters in the brain that tell the body to breathe and thus depresses breathing.
Naloxone (Narcan) reverses the effects of an opioid overdose i.e. CNS and respiratory depression in as little as 1-2 minutes and blocks the symptoms of the overdose for 50 to 90 minutes. Dugan further explained that Narcan works by taking the opioid off the receptors, sitting on these mu receptors and restoring the brain's natural chemistry. She administered Narcan nasal spray on a dummy to show participants how to use it correctly and then a couple of the attendees took turns administering the nasal spray. Loretta Robinson of Mount Holly was one of the participants who volunteered to simulate saving a life with Narcan. As the executive director of No Greater Love in Burlington Township, one of the Code Blue shelters in the county that offer refuge to homeless people when temperatures hit below the freezing level, Robinson said she needs to be prepared, just in case.
Joanna Dugan told participants that the medicine naloxone can wear off while opioid overdose symptoms are still present; these symptoms typically last from 20 minutes to 2 hours. This is why Narcan is not a substitute for calling the police when someone has overdosed on opioids. After administering Narcan nasal spray, first responders have to wait with the patient for the police to arrive. Every participant received a Narcan kit containing naloxone nasal spray, a training certification card as well as a card on whom to call to have access to more Narcan in case a participant has to use theirs to save lives.
Tonya Dickerson, Municipal Alliance coordinator, who also participated in the event, stated that Burlington City's emergency services personnel has used Narcan nasal spray at least 3 times in the past two weeks. Todd T. Whitmore, who works for Burlington County Human Services added that Narcan was used Tuesday on an individual who was overdosing in the bathroom of a building in Burlington County, emphasizing that it's prudent to have first responders properly equipped to address opioid-related overdoses in a timely manner and thus reduce the potentially fatal harm they can cause. This much-needed Narcan training seminar was covered through a grant from the New Jersey Department of Human Services.