Kalamazoo woman conducts opioid overdose prevention training
NILES, Mich. (AP) — She’s got it down pat, packing up the large plastic tub with the half-mannequin, extra Narcan kits, business cards, handouts and, on top, the large framed photo of her red-haired daughter, Marissa.
It’s all the stuff Nancy King, of Kalamazoo, takes with her when she gives a talk on preventing opioid overdose deaths.
The tub goes on wheels, so she can pull it behind her like airport luggage. Under her arm she carries the magnetic board on which she lists the names of nearly 40 prescription drugs to help folks understand opioids.
King, executive director of COPE Network, travels an eight-county area of southwest Michigan — and sometimes beyond — to train people how to stop an opioid overdose in progress, the South Bend Tribune reported.
On a recent night, she was in Niles, where about 25 people came to the YMCA to take the training and to get free Narcan kits.
The training focuses on the nature of drug addiction; emphasizes compassion for those who struggle with it; and also teaches and equips people to use the antidote naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to stop an overdose.
It’s all the information King wishes she’d known before Marissa died of a heroin overdose in 2012 at age 21.
“When people ask me what I would have done differently, to have the knowledge I have today is what I would have done differently,” King said to the Niles group.
Among those in attendance were three members of Broadway Christian Parish in South Bend, which operates a homeless mission, where those in need can get a hot breakfast, a shower and clean clothing. Alcoholism and drug addiction are common among the visitors.
“We come across people who are just laid out, who look dead,” church member Becky Snyder said.
Learning what an overdose looks like and when to administer Narcan — only when the person is unresponsive — was key, Snyder said.
In an opioid overdose, the drug tricks the brain into suspending the breathing function, King said. A shot of Narcan can counteract the opioids and restore breathing. It works only for opioids.
Sometimes multiple doses of the antidote are needed to treat an overdose, which is one reason, among others, that even those equipped to treat an overdose with a Narcan kit should call paramedics, King said.
In 2017, there were 70,200 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., about 68% of them involving an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, the CDC says.
The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 was more than three times the rate in 1999, according to the CDC.
In Berrien County, the number of opioid fatalities rose from four in 2009 to 23 in 2016, according to health statistics King shared. Kalamazoo County has the most opioid fatalities in the eight-county area King’s COPE Network serves, rising from 13 in 2009 to 54 in 2016. The other counties include Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, St. Joseph and Van Buren.
COPE has trained more than 7,000 people how to stop an opioid overdose, including police and firefighters, and distributed 5,200 Narcan kits, King said.
A kit includes two doses of Narcan administered as a nasal spray; a rescue breathing mask with a two-way filter; and some non-latex gloves.
Training people how to use the antidote is fairly simple. King also talks about the history of the opioid crisis in the U.S., the brain chemistry of addiction, and a study that tied a number of traumas that could be experienced in childhood to the likelihood of substance abuse.
“It’s not a war on drugs. It’s a war on trauma,” she said, arguing it’s time society quits looking at drug addiction with “blame, shame and judgment.”
King talks fast, including about the joy and grief of her life, Marissa’s life and death. Marissa’s story is also shared on the COPE Network website. Her daughter — who loved to write, played the flute and had an instinct to help those in need — struggled with bipolar disorder, self-harm and substance abuse. Abusing alcohol and prescription opioids began as a teen, and she began using heroin shortly after she started college. Marissa survived two overdoses when someone called an ambulance to get her help, King said. She didn’t survive the third one.
Back then, Narcan wasn’t an antidote a layperson might have had on hand, she said, but today it’s known as an effective antidote most people can administer with limited risk.
The American Medical Association supports widespread availability of naloxone and recently expressed favor for publicly placed naloxone rescue kits that anyone could use. Naloxone is widely available in many states. In Indiana, the Naloxone 101 page on the state’s website — in.gov. — gives tips about the antidote and how to get it. In Michigan, it’s available as a third-party prescription, which is how King can distribute it to people who attend her talks.
Saving someone from an overdose death with a dose of Narcan doesn’t condone drug misuse, King said, it just gives someone another chance at life.
Her message resonated with many who took the training.
“People say you’ve got to turn the other way,” Snyder, of Broadway Christian, said about the homeless people with drug and alcohol problems the church serves, “but you can’t.”
Denise Peters, chief operating officer for the YMCA of Southwest Michigan and the Michiana YMCA, said offering the COPE Network training is part of the Y’s mission to build a healthier community.
“Addicts are everywhere,” and so are the families affected by them, Peters said.
She hopes to bring King back for more training sessions.
COPE Network’s work in the area dovetails with that of other drug addiction support services, such as Voice Change Hope, a Berrien County alliance targeting prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction, and Carol’s Hope, a 24-hour drug crisis intervention facility in St. Joseph.
King’s COPE Network got off the ground in 2016, although King’s been involved in efforts to address the opioid crisis since Marissa’s death.
She said she’s starting to see more awareness about substance abuse disorder and to feel a change in how it’s treated, as she travels the region to give presentations.
“I think there’s hope,” King said, “because we’re talking about it now.”
Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com