Grieving mother uses naloxone training to help save stranger's life
MILTON—Jenny Hallett almost skipped the June training in Milton on how to save the life of an overdose victim.
But a voice inside told her to be there, so she went.
Nine days later on June 22, she was at a friend's house when she got a call for help from someone who knew she was at the training.
A man had overdosed in the town of Milton.
Could she come quickly?
Hallett rehearsed in her mind what she had learned as she drove in the dark to help the victim.
When she arrived, she aimed her car's headlights at the man who was outside. His body had a pasty, gray appearance, just like she had seen in the training video.
“I was shaking like a leaf,” Hallett recalled. “But I was focused. I knew what I had to do.”
Hallett retrieved a syringe from an overdose kit. She filled the syringe with the contents of a small bottle of naloxone.
Then she injected it into the victim's thigh.
“About two minutes later, he still had not come around,” Hallett said. “I told his girlfriend this was not unusual.”
When Hallett was ready to administer another dose, paramedics arrived and gave it right away.
Two to three minutes later, the victim took a big breath, opened his eyes, sat up and started talking, Hallett recalled.
Hallett is not a paramedic or a nurse or a doctor.
She is a concerned citizen who recognizes the opioid epidemic is killing too many people. In response, she armed herself with training and naloxone, which saves people overdosing on opioids.
Hallett received free naloxone at a class in Milton organized by the overdose prevention committee of the Rock County Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Task Force.
“I want everyone to consider getting trained in how to administer naloxone,” she said. “It is just as important as getting CPR training. You never know when you might save a life.”
Several trainings have been offered in Rock County since last year, and another is Tuesday, July 18, atá Janesville's Central Fire Station on Milton Avenue.
“Unfortunately, more and more overdoses are happening in public places,” said Shari Faber of Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change.
The group sponsored the first trainings in Rock County and helped create the heroin task force, which raises awareness about heroin addiction and works on prevention, treatment and recovery strategies.
Faber estimated 80-plus Rock County residents have had naloxone training. They include family members of people who use opioids.
Hallett is the first citizen that Faber has heard about who used her training to help save a life.
“There may be family members as well, but we have not heard from them,” Faber said. “We are hopeful that if we keep people alive, they can get the treatment they need. It's a very complex problem. This is just a piece of it.”
For more powerful opioids, such as fentanyl, several doses of naloxone might be needed to revive an overdose victim, Faber explained.
INSPIRED BY DAUGHTER
Hallett said her daughter Brittany Rose is the reason she took the naloxone training class.
Ever since 26-year-old Brittany died in November 2014 from alcohol addiction, Hallett has tried to help anyone struggling with a substance-use disorder.
“I believe Brittany inspired me to be there to help save this young man's life,” Hallett said. “My way of coping with her death is to prevent other parents from going through what I am going through.”
She emphasized that anyone can struggle with addiction.
“People think it is some lowlife-gutter person who deserves it,” Hallett said. “My daughter was a straight-A student almost her entire life. It was clear when the alcohol took hold, and it was devastating to watch. I've seen the power of addiction.”
At first, Hallett did not “want to tarnish my daughter's name and image,” she said. “But there's nothing to be ashamed of. Many people drink a lot of alcohol in our culture. I'm sure my daughter believed she would not allow herself to cross over the line, but I'm also sure she didn't know when it was happening.”
Hallett tries to educate people that the easiest time to take control is before they become addicted.
“If you don't get addicted, it will save you a lifetime of struggling just to feel normal again,” Hallett said.
She speaks publicly about alcohol dependency and talked to the senior and junior classes at Milton High School before prom weekend in May as part of her effort to create awareness.
“I'm trying to educate the na´ve general public so they understand that people with substance-use dependencies have a disease,” Hallett said. “It is not a moral failing. I am trying to erase the negative stigma associated with substance-use disorders.”
The stigma costs many people their lives because they do not seek help for fear of “being found out,” she added.
Hallett said helping to save a life buoys her efforts.
“I have dedicated my life to trying to help others,” Hallett said. “Knowing I was able to do this encourages me to go on. I am doing all of this in my daughter's name.”
Overdose training in Janesville on Tuesday
Amelia Lyman of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin will provide overdose-prevention training in Janesville on Tuesday, July 18.
She will teach people how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose and how to administer naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.
Each attendee can receive a free naloxone kit, which contains three to five doses.
Naloxone is used to reverse an opioid overdose. Opioids are a class of drugs that include legal painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin.
Lyman has taught the class in Milton and Evansville.
Many people who attend are concerned family members and friends of people who use opioids, she said.
“We also are seeing an increase in concerned community members who want to be proactive and engaged,” Lyman said. “They want to know how to respond if they see an overdose victim.”
The training is “a good opportunity to start the domino process of change,” Lyman said. “This is a health issue. We teach people how to react to someone having a heart attack. We need to promote this like other first-aid training, which is the unfortunate reality of the opioid epidemic.”
Many populations are touched by drug use, and the more people are educated “the better we can handle it,” Lyman said.
Bill Keeton, also of the AIDS Resource Center, explained that the agency has offered overdose-prevention training since 2005.
“We began providing Narcan to injection-drug users who were in positions to witness and stop overdosing,” he said. “We know that people injecting opiates typically do it in groups. To us, it was logical that we offer training to those who might witness overdoses.”
Since then, the agency has offered trainings for church members, law enforcement agencies and community-based groups.
“We have trained more than 12,000 people on how to identify someone experiencing an overdose and how to administer Narcan,” Keeton said. “More than 5,000 times, people have come back to us and said the training helped save someone.”
Providing training is in keeping with the agency's belief that all human life has value.
“Just because someone is struggling with addiction,” Keeton said, “it should not be a death sentence. We want people to have another chance at sobriety.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.