Nearly 1,100 people will die from drug overdoses in Connecticut this year, according to recent projections from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. While access to Narcan, or naloxone, will not solve the drug crisis, it can save lives.
The medication can be used to reverse the effects of opioid drugs like prescription painkillers and heroin.
"It can be a normal day. You wouldn't know when these types of things can happen," said Luz Holmes of East Hartford. She said she did not have a direct connection with the opioid crisis until she was driving home through downtown Hartford and saw a man lying right on the side of the road.
"He was on the ground," she said. "He was on the sidewalk."
First responders told Holmes that the man had overdosed. Witnessing the event was enough to lead her to decide to join a growing number of volunteers taking the necessary training to be able to administer the drug Narcan. Holmes said she was convinced that she would be faced with the same life and death scenario sometime in the future.
"At the end of the day, you're preventing death," Holmes said.
Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill projected a staggering 1,078 deaths from drug overdoses in 2017 alone.
"It's just unbelievable. Your chances of seeing one is much higher than it used to be," said Dan Madden of Somers said about the number of public overdoses occurring in Connecticut.
Madden, who recently completed his third year the UConn School of Medicine, had not had any "hands-on" Narcan training. He found that training at the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition (GHHRC).
"It's very different from my medical classes where you sit down in a lecture hall and someone's lecturing to you about all these diseases," said.
Deirdre Daly, who was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut until the end of October, said she was encouraged by the increased interest and use Narcan has been getting.
Narcan kits are showing up in more public places. Milford announced in October that school nurses would be equipped with Narcan, including at the elementary school level. Many other Connecticut school districts have begun supplying it as well.
"Anybody from a parent or a visitor, a staff member or even a child experimenting or stealing something out of the medicine cabinet just to see what it does," Milford Battalion Chief of Emergency Medical Services Daniel Wassmer told NBC Connecticut.
Campus police and medical personnel at 16 Connecticut State Colleges and Universities are also carrying the life-saving medication this semester.
"If it were your child, and Narcan were available and that would save his or her life, you would want it to be used," said Daly, who left her post on October 27.
But sometimes even a life-saving drug is not enough to save a life.
"I looked down on the floor and I found him," said Christine Gagnon of Southington, remembering the morning she found her 22-year-old son, Mike, on his bedroom floor. "I knew he was gone but I grabbed my Narcan," she said.
The Narcan was not strong enough to break the effects of the pure fentynal that she said Mike had overdosed on.
"All the hopes and dreams you have for your child was destroyed that day," said Gagnon. In the three and half heartbreaking months since her son's death, Gagnon has rearmed herself with Narcan. She said she wants to be prepared to help anyone who is on the same path as her son.
"You can't get someone into treatment if they're not alive," said Gagnon. "And this is just that first step to make them alive."
Gagnon is also an active member of The Roadway of Hope CT, Inc., a grassroots organization established in 2016 to bring attention to the current epidemic of substance use in Connecticut.
Some programs providing treatment for substance use, including the GHHRC, can provide education and access to Narcan. In the state of Connecticut, authorized prescribers include physicians, surgeons, PAs, APRNs, dentists and podiatrists. With legislation passed in 2015, pharmacists who have been trained and certified can also prescribe and dispense Narcan, according to the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS).
To find Connecticut pharmacies with Narcan, click here.
In October, President Donald Trump declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announced new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.