Consider, please, 13 unexpected things I learned about Narcan on a hot, muggy Saturday, between a visit to the gym and the barber for my husband’s bi-weekly haircut:
1) It’s easy to learn how to administer naloxone, or Narcan, as it is more commonly known, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.
2) A Narcan class is surprisingly short.
3) Naloxone is the number one drug most administered by the Huntington Community First Aid Squad in Huntington Station, where Saturday’s class was held. The squad last year responded to 6,100 calls.
4) The newest naloxone dose kits are one-piece units which, unlike older ones, require zero assembly. They’re roughly the size of Ring Pops.
5) Fentanyl has replaced heroin as the most-used opioid in Suffolk. “You have to grow heroin and get it here,” Dr. Gregson Pigott, clinical director of Suffolk’s Health Services department, pointed out to the class. “You can make fentanyl anywhere in a lab.”
6) Some heavy users, after mixing a baggie of fentanyl with water, inject themselves every three or four hours to keep from going into immediate, painful withdrawal.
7) One baggie of fentanyl, heroin or some combination of the two is called a hit; 10 baggies is a bundle; 10 bundles is a sleeve.
8) A bundle can cost between $60 and $100. “Economically, that is unsustainable,” Pigott told us, “and if someone is using every three or four hours, it’s going to be worse because it will be impossible for them to hold on to a job.”
9) Opioid addiction and mental health issues go hand in hand, which makes treating addicts challenging.
10) The number of addicts opting to use Suffolk’s four clinics that offer methadone — an opioid used to help addicts taper off or stay off heroin — has increased. “There should be a clinic in every neighborhood,” Pigott told us, adding the reality that such won’t happen, given community resistance to drug treatment centers.
11) Suffolk could see a record number of deaths for calendar year 2017. But after years of increases, officials are hopeful they could be seeing a slowdown, year over year. A look at the 12-month period between May 2017 and last month shows Suffolk averaging about 3.6 overdoses a day, and one death every 36 hours, a police official told lawmakers recently. By comparison, the county had about six overdoses a day, one fatal, during the previous 12-month period.
12) Since 2013, Suffolk has offered 360 Narcan training classes. But the county has had to cut back because New York State, which provides the free naloxone kits we received Saturday, reduced the number going to Suffolk because statewide demand for kits is high. “If we ask for 1,200,” Pigott said in an interview Monday, “we’ve been getting 600.”
13) Suffolk — still — has the largest number of opioid overdoses of any suburban county in New York State.
Last month, Newsday reported that naloxone had been administered 2,200 times since it has been put into widespread use by law enforcement and other agencies.
Some of those receiving the drug were revived, only to relapse and require Narcan once, twice or several times more.
Pigott dealt with that issue, too.
Each revival, he told the class, amounted to one more chance for the survivor. And one less funeral for family, friends and neighborhoods.
On Monday, Pigott, who has worked with addicts, elaborated.
“Behind every overdose there are family members that are grieving,” he said, noting that most overdoses occur in young people in their 20s and 30s.
“There is all of this unrealized potential,” he said, “that has been taken away from all of us.”
Correction: A previous version of this column misstated the number of calls the Community First Aid Squad in Huntington Station responded to last year. The squad responded to 6,100 calls.