Nobody would shake out just four grains of salt to flavor their food, but that very amount of the super potent synthetic opioid fentanyl is enough to kill an adult.
That was one of the facts that Sergeant William Weick of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office shared with the approximately 25 people who gathered at the Bridgehampton Firehouse on Wednesday, December 1, to learn how to administer Narcan, a highly effective antidote for opioid overdoses.
Weick’s presentation was sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming and David Falkowski of Open Minded Organics, a local leader in the emerging field of legal cannabis, who has also advocated for stepped up drug-abuse prevention efforts.
Referring to the overdose deaths of six people on the North Fork last summer, Fleming said, “at least two other people who overdosed were brought back to life by police officers who had these little kits that you are going to learn to use today.”
Narcan, or naloxone hydrochloride, which is administered as a nasal spray, is highly effective at reviving victims of an opioid overdose, Weick told the audience.
He said that opioids kill by first slowing down the breathing rate, which eventually leads to cardiac arrest. He said while it is vital to restore a victim’s breathing, Narcan can also be effective on someone who is not breathing. Getting an overdose victim prompt emergency medical attention is also a necessity, he added.
“You can’t just give them this, say ‘Good job’ and send them on their way,” he said.
Despite extensive publicity over the years, opioid overdoses continue to claim lives. In 2020, Weick said there were 180 known overdose deaths in Suffolk County alone.
Part of the reason for that, he said, is that heroin dealers are increasingly mixing their product with fentanyl. Many types of heroin carry street names called “stamps,” and “counter-intuitively, people will seek out the most dangerous heroin in the community,” Weick said, because they assume they will be able to control their dose and achieve a better high.
Weick noted that the Narcan remains effective for about half the length of time as opioids, so often, a victim who is revived from an overdose will lapse back into that condition. For that reason, Narcan kits come with two doses of the antidote. In addition, the standard dosage has been doubled from 2 milligrams to 4 milligrams because of the strength of newer drugs.
Weick, who has given Narcan training presentations throughout the county for several years now, talked about how opioid addiction has gone from a plight of the lowest segments of society to one that is more and more affecting seemingly normal middle-class homes.
He recounted the story of a young woman named Kelly, who first smoked marijuana with friends, then began hanging out with a young man who introduced her to heroin. She went from a promising student to a dropout and addict, he said. When arrested, she confided to police, “I don’t have any idea how I got here,” he said.
He urged parents to stay alert for rapid changes of behavior in their children and to keep their eyes open for things like syringe caps, small rubber bands, and tiny envelopes, all of which are associated with heroin use.
“We have a great turnout, and this is very important moving forward,” Falkowski said. “We don’t have to wait until another six people overdose and some of them die, to do this again.”