Using Narcan to stop overdose

The number of people dying from drug addiction has more than doubled since the year 2000.
               
It's a national epidemic and drug overdose is currently the number one cause of accidental death in the United States.
               
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 91 people lose their life to opioid overdose everyday, that includes painkillers and heroin, but there is a way to reverse opiate overdose that is becoming easier for people all over the country to obtain.

"I think pretty much everybody knows somebody close whose got addiction issues," said Sandra Swenson, a Georgetown author whose family was rocked by the disease.

Swenson's somebody once lit up her life.

"My son Joey, first born, he's just as sweet and gentle as could be and he was really smart and he liked to give hugs," Swenson said.

As Joey turned 18 and his drug addiction took over, he put Sandra through more pain than she ever thought imaginable.

“Everything that I could, I did it all, and nothing worked,” said Swenson.

Joey's life is now littered with treatment facilities, jail time and unkempt promises. While his mother, thousands of miles away, longs for the day her Joey will come back home.

“I know that along the way I've seen people that just turned and walked away and never looked back at their kids and I can't do that to him,” Swenson said.

Although Sandra isn't able to save her son from addiction, she knows as long as he's alive there's hope someone, somewhere will get through to him.  That's why she's grateful for people like Mark Kinzly.

“So I get the opportunity to do what I love more than anything in the world. I get to be of service to my fellow humans, to help somebody that may feel like there's not a whole lot of hope,” Kinzly said.

Although he struggled with his own addiction for 23 years, Mark now spends his days on the front lines of the opiate epidemic in Austin.

“We have never seen, even with all our efforts with the war on drugs, we have never seen more drugs in this country at a higher purity, at a lower cost than we do right now,” said Kinzly.

Mark works with the Austin Harm Reduction Coalition and co-founded the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative to save addict's lives by making sure they have access to clean syringes and the overdose reversal drug Naloxone also known as Narcan.

“It basically kicks and blocks the opioid receptor so that when people are in respiratory depression, or an overdose we would call that, the opioid gets kicked off allowing that person to start breathing again,” Kinzly explained.

Narcan can be administered in one of three ways- intramuscularly, nasally or with an auto injector.

“You can take someone who's barely breathing, maybe four times a minute when you're stimulating them, to administering that drug and having an immediate effect of them sitting up, looking at you and having a conversation. So going from total unconscious, unresponsive, barely breathing to having a normal conversation in just seconds,” said Austin Travis County EMS Captain Darren Noak.

Although illegal in Texas, the needle exchange program has been operating in Austin for 20 years. Kinzly, who started a similar program in the northeast, said the belief that these programs enable addicts is false.

“There is no zero evidence to that, scientific evidence to that, and there is huge amounts of scientific evidence that actually show the contrary, needle exchange doesn't drive addiction,” Kinzly said.

By handing out Narcan to addicts in Austin, Mark’s already been able to save lives.

“I think it was about two years ago, me and my husband had to use it to bring back a friend of ours,” said Cat, one of Kinzly’s contacts who lives on the streets in downtown Austin.

“I mean, I feel like if there's something that's available to reverse the overdose, to bring somebody back or save somebody's life, then that should kind of be like Advil or Tylenol, kind of like readily available,” said Caster, another one of Mark’s contacts downtown.

Thanks to Senate Bill 1462, which passed through the Texas legislature in 2015, anyone in Texas can purchase Narcan over the counter at local pharmacies, but it's Kinzly who provides Narcan to the University of Texas Police Department.

“The one thing we don't want is somebody showing up at UT to get a degree who makes one bad choice and it cost him his life. The University of Texas Police Department decided that they wanted to be trained in this, they're in the community, they're engaged with students all day long, and Chief Carter made the decision that he thought it would be a good idea to be trained in this and that his officers should have access to this medication,” Kinzly said.

Currently no Austin police officers carry it. FOX 7 caught up with interim police Chief Brian Manley at a town hall meeting to find out why that's the case.

“At this point in the discussion, then again we have a new medical director and we still are involved in discussions, but at this point, with EMS having the response time that it has, that's the model that we follow, is that both they and AFD have the availability to provide Narcan if needed ,” said Manley.

“Oftentimes, when you call 911, the first one that shows up is a officer. To have a simple, benign, easy medication to administer in their first-aid kits to me is a no brainer. So I think, yeah, absolutely, that three minute time frame could make a difference in people's lives,” Kinzly said.

Robin Peyson, executive director of Communities for Recovery, has been advocating for all first responders to have Narcan on-hand.

“Would you not carry other critical lifesaving equipment with you when you're, as a public servant, protecting the public and keeping us safe? Not having life-saving equipment with you, it doesn't make sense,” Peyson said.

It’s possible some APD officers may soon add it to the list of items in their first-aid kit.

“We have looked at this in the past and we have a new medical director here in Austin. I have actually already brought this to his attention, when he was first hired, as a possibility that we would be able to cooperate, because we would have to operate under his license,” Manley said.

Either way, those in the recovery community hope that it's time to stop hiding the disease of addiction, which affects one in every ten people in the U.S., according to drugfree.org. Only about 11 percent of those suffering from addiction ever seek help.

“People are so reluctant to see themselves as an addict because of all that moral judgment, instead of seeing it as an illness that is treatable. We've had this national conversation where we are judging people with substance use, instead of understanding that it's an illness. Your brain has literally been hijacked and you probably had some vulnerability in the first place biochemically,” said Peyson.

"I just wish more people would feel that way and the stigma would go away, because it shouldn't be that way. It is a disease and they need the help just like anybody with any other disease...Those lives are worth saving so are these lives just as much," Swenson said.

As Sandra knows all too well, addiction can hit any family at any time.
“I want him to know that, no matter what happens, I love him and there's a space in my life that's exactly his size and that I want him to come back and fill it,” said Swenson.

Because she knows as long as the addict is alive, there's hope they will find recovery and live to see a brighter tomorrow.

Swenson wrote a book about her experience dealing with her son's addiction called "The Joey Song."  That book is now available in many prisons to give addicts a better idea of the trauma their disease has caused their loved ones.

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