By: Brooke Curley
SAFFORD – The public was reminded Tuesday of the dangers of prescription drugs, but informed of a new delivery system of an opioid antidote that could help save lives.
The Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition invited the public to an hour-long Rx360 meeting in the Graham County General Services Building for a presentation regarding the opioid epidemic. Coalition Program Director Kathy Grimes led the presentation on the ongoing rise of prescription drug addiction. When an audience member asked Grimes what a parent could do while raising a child in today’s prescription drug-troubled world, Grimes said communication and alertness were important aspects.
“I would say talk early and often and investigate,” Grimes said. “It’s okay to go through their stuff.”
Before the meeting began, Grimes told Gila Valley Central about the nasal spray version of the opioid antidote Narcan (Nalaxone Hydrochloride) that will soon be available in the Gila Valley. Currently Narcan is available as an injectable drug and paramedics frequently utilize it on overdose calls to stop the effects of opiates.
“There’s a medication that’s coming out that is called Narcan,” Grimes said. “What we’re doing is bringing the training here. It can be a lifesaver medication. Right now our first responders have access to that medication, but, in the future, our community members will have access to it.”
Grimes said the training will be brought to the local area soon. Training will first be supplied to local law enforcement and then to the medical community and pharmacy, followed by the community in general.
“And they (educators) will actually be going out looking for homeless individuals also,” Grimes said. “Because the data says that 83 percent of the individuals who have been saved by Narcan has been saved by other addicts who were their friends who saved their lives. It (Narcan) will be available for a large variety of community members.”
Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman also presented a lecture to those attending on Narcan and prescription drug addiction.
“About 75 percent of our heroin users started with prescription medication,” Brugman said. “In our country, fentanyl is killing more people than heroin.”
Fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid prescribed to individuals that are in extreme pain. Usually distributed in patches, individuals abusing the drug might chew on the patches or microwave them to retrieve the opioid. Just three specks of fentanyl the size of salt grains ingested will instantly kill the individual unfortunate enough to ingest it. Because of Fentanyl’s potency, it is lethal.
Brugman told the audience that not only can Narcan save the lives of illegal drug users who suffer an overdose but also it can save police lives. In his lecture, he told the story of watching a video of two investigating officers who unknowingly overdosed on fentanyl. While investigating a crime scene, the two officers opened a plastic bag. When they opened the bag, a small puff of power was released into the air, and the two officers instantly fell to the ground in the grips of an immediate overdose.
“It’s not just for the citizen that uses the drugs out there,” Brugman said. “I have a very real concern that one of my officers will be exposed to it and could go down, so it’s something that we have to have on hand and be ready to use.”
Brugman later went on to say that although the fight with prescription drug addiction is ongoing in the Gila Valley, he has faith that the epidemic will be beaten back.
“We want to save these lives,” he said. “We want to save the people’s lives (who) are using these drugs so they have a chance at living their life and at recovery. Because if they just die right there, how it affects their families (and) how it affects their friends, it’s terrible. There is hope, I will tell you. We can beat this if we just come together. We’ll see differences; we’ll see changes in those numbers of our youth in our schools (who) are trying these things. I am confident.”
The Safford Police Department has already sent an officer out to receive training on how to administer Narcan and will be returning to the Gila Valley in roughly two weeks. When the officer returns, he will be training the rest of the department.