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 her overdose kit, which she carries in her purse. 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 sessions have been offered in Rock County since last year, and another is Tuesday, July 18, at 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.”
Hallet 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 spoke to the senior and junior classes at Milton High School before prom weekend in May as part of her effort to create awareness about alcohol dependency.
“I’m trying to educate the naïve 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.
Hallet 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.”
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.