Emergency responders increased their use of a lifesaving drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses on Long Island in 2016, figures show.
That trend comes into focus just as fatal overdose numbers from last year have also risen.
Naloxone, the drug administered through a shot or nasal spray, was given at least 769 times in Suffolk County in 2016 by law enforcement, emergency responders and others. That was a significant jump from 598 in 2015, according to a quarterly report on opioids compiled by New York State.
In Nassau, naloxone — or Narcan, the brand name version of the drug — was given out 529 times in 2016 compared with 484 occasions the previous year, state records show.
Islandwide it’s an increase of about 20 percent.
The Narcan numbers come as more statistics indicate that the deadly drug epidemic still has a tight grip on Long Island: Revised numbers in Suffolk have pushed the 2016 death toll on Long Island to 524, up from 493. There are now 329 fatalities for Suffolk County and 195 for Nassau in 2016, according to updated county records.
There were 115 deaths for Suffolk County in 2017 as of Aug. 1, and 68 deaths for Nassau County as of May 29, records show.
As the drug problem has escalated, the popularity of the antidote has also risen, with advocates and local leaders pushing for increased availability and use of the drug. In addition to law enforcement, the drug is also available now in libraries, schools and first responders also carry it when present at entertainment venues.
“Our public health warnings are starting to work,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the Mineola-based Family and Children’s Association, a drug-treatment advocacy group. “Don’t use [opioids] alone. And if you’re going to use it, make sure you have naloxone on hand.”
Tina Wolf, co-founder and executive director of Community Action for Social Justice — another drug-treatment advocacy group — operates a syringe exchange program where group members bring unused needles for those using drugs, free of charge. She also trains users in how to administer naloxone and gives them their own kits in case of an emergency.
She advises users to have people check on them or, if they are getting high with a friend, to stagger their usage by 15 minutes just in case someone overdosed and needs naloxone.
The idea being that if people are going to use drugs, they should be as safe as possible, she said.
“People need to be alive in order to ever make different decisions,” Wolf said. “The only case where hope is completely lost is when you’re dead. There’s always hope until you’re dead.”
Suffolk officials said they’ve held more than 278 classes and have trained more than 9,000 people on how to administer the drug since they introduced their naloxone program in 2012.
In some cases, first responders have had to make repeated house calls to the same person. In others, the combination of drugs was too strong, and multiple doses of the antidote were needed.
Robert Delagi, director for the Suffolk EMT service which oversees over 100 ambulance groups, said he’s not only seen a significant spike in the emergency calls related to opioid overdoses, and workers have also logged multiple visits to the same home where someone overdoses multiple times.
“Some people are very frustrated because their call volume goes up and they see the same person overdosing multiple times and there is a reality to that frustration,” Delagi said.
State and local authorities have created initiatives to help ease the struggle for those addicted.
The number of people admitted to state-certified drug treatment programs has increased for both counties. Nassau had 7,866 people admitted last year, up by 64 from the previous year. In Suffolk County, there was a jump of 223 people as the county registered 15,759 last year, state officials said.
Both counties have introduced anti-drug programs, which include a bilingual substance disorder center in Freeport and funding for a new 25-bed community for women in Brentwood and renovations to other treatment centers.
Gary Gentile, a Port Jefferson father of three, spoke in August at an event hosted by THRIVE, a recovery center operated by Family and Children’s Association, about how he used the drug to save his 29-year-old daughter in late 2016. He and his wife were sleeping when his daughter’s boyfriend woke them up in a panic, he said. Gentile said he found her on the floor, limp and unresponsive. He rushed to administer the drug but Gentile soon realized he botched the assembly.
“In just the panic, you rush to put one of these things together and whatever I did, I didn’t do it properly. That first dose, it went all over me, all over my hands. I blew it,” said Gentile.
Gentile’s naloxone kit had one last dose, so he read the directions again and screwed the vial into the syringe properly this time.
When the syringe was ready, he squeezed the plunger on the syringe and released the drug inside her nose.
But it wasn’t until a few minutes had passed that his daughter woke up just before emergency responders arrived.
“I just held her in my arms and kept repeating, “It’s going to be OK,’” he recalled.
Gentile, whose daughter has since sought treatment and is now doing well, told a packed audience how the naloxone kit made all the difference.
“I couldn’t do anything but look at that spot on my floor and look on the other side of the room where that first syringe was and realize how close we came,” Gentile said.
Naloxone was given at least 769 times in Suffolk in 2016 and 598 in 2015.
Naloxone was given out 529 times in 2016 and 484 in 2015.
SOURCE: New York State