Save a life? Overdose prevention is part of upcoming training

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

JANESVILLE—Anyone in Rock County might encounter a person overdosing from heroin or prescription painkillers these days.

“It could happen anywhere. We've had overdoses at our movie theater here in town,” said Sarah Johnson, executive director of the anti-drug organization Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change.

“One of the most common ones we've seen lately is in vehicles in parking lots,” said Deputy Chief Jim Ponkauskas of the Janesville Fire Department.

Ponkauskas said he gets the feeling that addicts don't go home to take their heroin because they're afraid that if they overdose at home, no one will find them.

So why would they take the chance of using heroin at all?

That's the power of the addiction, Ponkauskas said.

Janesville paramedics administered naloxone 12 times in the first six weeks of this year. Naloxone—one form of it is called Narcan—can reverse the effects of heroin and opioid prescription drugs such as hydrocodone.

At this pace, the number of naloxone calls in Janesville could reach 100 for 2017, Ponkauskas said.

That would be an increase from 2016, when Janesville paramedics administered the life-saving drug 89 times.

And those are only the cases that the fire department responds to, Ponkauskas noted. Other overdose victims might be taken directly to a hospital or other provider.

Or they recover without medical help. Or they die.

Laws now allow naloxone sales without a prescription, so anyone could save a life with the drug. That's one aspect of overdose training for community members, set for March 7 in Janesville.

The training will help family, friends or any concerned member of the community understand how to prevent an overdose, how to recognize one and how to respond if it happens, Johnson said.

The training will include specific steps for drug users, such as never using alone, and starting with a small amount because you never know the potency of a dose, Johnson said.

That kind of advice comes from a “harm-reduction model,” which recognizes that overdoses will happen. That can be controversial among those who think teaching abstinence is the best course of action.

“Our purpose in holding this training is making sure people stay alive … until they're ready to make that commitment to treatment and recovery,” Johnson said.

For those who might be ready, the event will feature a table with brochures from treatment providers and recovery systems, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Included in the training will be a demonstration of how to administer naloxone, courtesy of staff from the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

The organization's Scott Stokes said resource center staffers trained 47 people to administer naloxone in 2015, and those people saved eight lives.

They trained 106 people in 2016 and saw 71 saves, Stokes said.

The AIDS Resource Center is expanding from training treatment professionals to family and significant others of drug users, Stokes said, because they will be needed.

Recent legislation and action by doctors should turn the tide against the heroin/opioid addiction epidemic, but not right away, Stokes believes.

“Right now, we have a large population that is already addicted,” Stokes said.

With doctors making it harder to get prescription opioids, people will switch to heroin, Stokes said, “so I think it's going to get a little bit worse before it gets better.”

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