Learn how to use naloxone

Published 9:47 pm Monday, June 12, 2017

No place in America — not even Suffolk — has been spared the ravages of the epidemic of opioid abuse, and officials seem to be at a loss as to how to respond to it. Every day seems to bring new headlines and stories of people who began taking powerful medication to ease the debilitating effects of pain on their bodies, only to become addicted and then find themselves on the desperately slippery slope these narcotics present.

In 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost one in 20 adolescents and adults — about 12 million people — used prescription pain medication when it was not prescribed to them or simply for the high it gave them. Judging from the headlines, that number is only likely to have increased since then.

An astonishingly high percentage of those people will eventually turn to heroin, since it’s cheaper and can be more readily available. But even those who do not graduate to heroin use are still at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 44 people die every day from prescription drug overdoses. In fact, poisoning is the leading cause of injury or death in the United States, and 90 percent of poisoning deaths in 2011 alone involved illegal or prescribed drugs.

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To put all this in perspective, the CDC says, more than 16,000 people died in 2013 as a result of prescription drug overdoses. Among those 25 to 65 years of age, more people die now from prescription drug overdoses than die in motor vehicle accidents.

While authorities continue to grapple with a way to end the crisis, Virginia has stepped in to at least provide an opportunity to save those who overdose on opioids, whether from prescription medication or from heroin itself.

The Virginia General Assembly this year passed a bill that allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone — a drug that counters the effects of an opioid overdose — to those without a prescription. Police departments, emergency services workers and others have been quick to take advantage of the opportunity, and a Suffolk News-Herald story in March noted that one month after police had started carrying the antidote, officers had saved the lives of four different people.

Recognizing the opportunity to save even more lives, the Western Tidewater Community Services Board has begun offering free classes to members of the public on how to use naloxone. By the beginning of this month, about 100 people had taken the classes, in addition to the ones that have been conducted for health care professionals and law enforcement officers.

Anyone is welcome at the classes, which are generally held at 9:45 a.m. on the third Thursday of the month and last about an hour and a half. To register, call 942-1970.

If you know someone who is fighting this addiction — and statistics suggest there’s a good chance that you do — do them a favor and get this training. Then pick up a dose of naloxone and keep it handy. Better to have it and never need it than to wish you had done so when it’s too late.