This story originally appeared in the New Haven Register.
NEW HAVEN >> Stacey Nugent has seen opioid overdose before.
She’s learned the signs: slow breathing, the nodding that eventually leads to a person’s collapse.
Nugent decided Wednesday to take another step for the safety of close friends and for folks on local buses she’s seen high, appearing on the brink of an overdose. She was one of a handful of community residents who attend a Narcan training session held by the city’s Public Health Department. Narcan, the brand name of a drug called naloxone, reverses the effects of opioid overdose and has been used to save numerous lives across the country.
At the New Haven Free Public Library session, everyone in attendance who wanted one was given a free Narcan kit, which Nugent said she plans to carry with her.
“It’s the humane thing to do,” Nugent said prior to the start of the training session. “Helping them live, helping them get help.”
The training session Wednesday was done in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, a day meant to commemorate thousands of lives lost due to drug use across the United States. Coinciding with the observance, the state announced a new, interactive website that allows people to search for local pharmacies that carry Narcan.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office additionally said in a separate press release that the state Department of Public Health — which provided the Narcan kits dispensed in New Haven on Wednesday — has distributed more than 9,200 prevention kits statewide since 2014. The medication is distributed through a campaign called Overdose Prevention Education and Naloxone, or OPEN, Access CT.
“We continue to focus on informing opioid prescribing practices, increasing the use of naloxone, and using medication-assisted treatment to move people into healthy, addiction-free lifestyles,” Malloy said in the release. “We must do everything we can to save lives. Overdoses are preventable, and we at the state level are acting every way we can,”
Following the rash of opioid overdoses in New Haven in June, the city began exploring the possibility of outfitting city police with Narcan kits similar to the ones handed out Wednesday.
However, the police union objected, citing changes in work condition.
Cops carrying Narcan is a topic Yale University junior Sally Weiner said she’s interested in after she said police in her hometown of Mansfield, New Jersey, have used the medication successfully. Connecticut has passed laws shielding first responders from liability when using Narcan, in effort to increase its use.
“What’s really troubling to me is the idea that if I call the police, they wouldn’t have this,” Weiner said. “That’s not what protecting people looks like.”
After being asked by Weiner why New Haven police don’t carry Narcan, City Health Department Director Dr. Byron Kennedy said one of the things to consider is the role of police.
“In some instances, you have a police department that is licensed, if you will, as a first responder for medical (calls),” Kennedy said. “In New Haven, specifically, our first responder for medical is not the Police Department.”
Kennedy said this isn’t a barrier, but from a practical point, the appropriate medical responders are a lot more likely to get to scene to provide the appropriate response.
Gateway Community College student Kim Caron said she’s known people affected by drug use. She was there for one person in particular, who she said is addicted to heroin. Caron said she’s had trouble finding pharmacies in the state that dispense Narcan, which she said has been one of the few medications she believes can truly help people with an opioid addiction.
With her own Narcan kit, she hopes to a lend a helping hand if it’s ever needed.
“You use them when somebody is going to hit rock bottom,” Caron said. “I want to give them a second chance.”
Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901