Representatives educate on heroin epidemic, distribute rescue kits

Alicia Krynock

Representatives from Townhall II, Portage County Health Department and Ohio CAN educated residents on the causes of addiction and how to help and distributed Narcan rescue kits June 27 at St. Joseph Church in Mogadore, Ohio. 

“I’m saddened at the turnout tonight because I see how opioid addiction has touched the lives of so many of us,” Becky Lehman said to the crowd. “But I’m happy you’re all here to learn and continue this conversation.”

Lehman, from the Portage County Combined General Health District, taught the audience how to administer Narcan in an emergency.

Naloxone, commonly called Narcan, has been used by medical professionals for over 40 years to rescue people overdosing on opioids, and Ohio passed a bill in 2016 allowing a Narcan nasal spray to be sold over the counter at some pharmacies. 

At the Portage County Health Department in Ravenna, Portage County residents can get a free Project DAWN (Death Avoided with Naloxone) kit.

Narcan works by binding to the same receptors in your brain as opioids do, blocking the effects for around 30 to 90 minutes.

Narcan only reverses the effects of opioids — heroin, morphine, percocet, codeine or hydrocodone. It is not effective against other drugs like cocaine or benzodiazepines like valium, ativan or xanax.

Lehman said Narcan alone is not enough to rescue someone — people must call 911.

“You would be surprised how many people forget how to call, or when to call,” she said. 

In 2016, Ohio passed the Good Samaritan Law, which protects someone who calls 911 in an emergency from being charged with minor drug offenses. 

Most importantly, Lehman said, you need to provide rescue breathing. The most obvious sign of an overdose is very slow, labored breathing.

“You have to breathe for them,” Lehman said. “I’m giving you a few minutes before the paramedics arrive.”

From May 2015 to May 2016, the  Kent Fire Department administered Narcan 56 times. The heroin epidemic caused all Kent Police to receive Project DAWN training and carry Narcan.

The Project DAWN kits come with two doses of Narcan. However, Lehman said recently two doses may not be enough — there are reports of officers requiring six or more doses to revive someone, usually due to the Fentanyl mixed into the drug.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and virtually identical — meaning there’s no way to identify when it’s mixed in.  It is almost impossible to find pure heroin today, Lehman said to the audience.

“That’s what’s killing everyone,” Lehman said. “Not the heroin but the fentanyl.” 

She warns if you see the drug, “the pinker it is, the more fentanyl.”

Kelly, who’s last name will remain anonymous, shared his story of addiction, recovery and being clean for the last two and a half years at the event.

“I am the product of the pill epidemic about 10 years ago,” he began.

Kelly broke both of his feet in a work accident and was prescribed large amounts of opioids to manage the pain.

Kelly told the crowd that, toward the end of his treatment, he was prescribed three different opioids to manage his pain at once, including a fentanyl patch and methadone. But once he told his doctors he would experience withdrawal symptoms, they cut him off, and that’s when Kelly started looking for other options, “first to treat the withdrawal, then to treat the pain I thought I had.” 

“The addiction itself does not discriminate … it can take anyone out,” Kelly said. 

The relapse rate for overcoming a heroin addiction has been reported as high as 91 percent in some places, but Kelly emphasized how important treatment and education about this topic is.

“Every time I went to treatment, it planted a seed,” Kelly said.

To help the growing epidemic, Lehman told the audience to get rid of their expired pills because pills are the root cause of the epidemic. 

She also urged Portage County residents to get a free Narcan kit to be prepared.

Rob Young, Clinical Director of Townhall II, provided resources for people dealing with addiction and their families. He told the audience about the emotional aspect of addiction, and what treatment options are available.

As the number of overdoses continues to rise across Ohio and in Portage County so does the need for education and discussion of this problem.

Free Narcan kits are available for Portage County residents, including Kent State students, at the Portage County Health Department. You can also get Narcan from any Project DAWN training sites and pharmacies across Ohio. 

Counseling services are available at Townhall II and Ohio CAN.

Alicia Krynock is the administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected]