Boxes of NARCAN ready for distribution by the University of South Carolina’s Office of Substance Abuse Prevention and Education. (Photos by Caroline Barry)
Midlands experts are showing residents how use the emergency overdose antidote NARCAN – then giving them the drug for free.
NARCAN, a brand of naloxone nasal spray, helps reverse the effects of an overdose if administered in a timely manner. And experts say people shouldn’t be afraid of carrying it with them.
Widespread, free distribution of the drug is the key to success.
More than 250 Americans die each day due to an overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“(NARCAN) can only be as important as you make it,” said Tim Maguire, senior director of Wake Up Carolina, a Mount Pleasant non-profit that specializes in NARCAN training. “If it’s directed only at one population, chances are you’re not going to have a community buy-in. You want to have a population buy-in.”
Anyone can get NARCAN from a designated community distributor.
Community distributors can be anything from rehabilitation centers to offices on college campuses.
The Office of Substance Abuse Prevention and Education at the University of South Carolina became the first higher education institution in the state to be a distributor, in September 2022.
Nikki Prudé, the office’s assistant director of outreach and communication, said that’s essential on campus and in Columbia in general.
“Some people are like, ‘What do I do?’ It’s a nasal spray and we walk you through all of (the steps) several times,” Prudé said. “We make sure we have (demonstrations) that people can actually practice with, so we want you to feel OK. You’re never going to feel great because of the circumstances surrounding it. But we want students to know: We can talk about this, we can talk you through this now.”
USC students such as Crawford Latham also have become involved in the office’s efforts. Latham thinks her status as a student is beneficial in getting other students to want to learn about NARCAN.
“It’s less intimidating than an adult just being like, ‘Here’s this opioid reversal drug,’” Latham said. “And so I can speak to the really good things about NARCAN and hopefully make it less scary for people.”
Education and awareness are key to destigmatizing opioid addiction, Prudé said. It’s also important to know how to help others in an emergency situation.
Others agreed with this statement, and widened the scope to the broader community.
Wake Up Carolina aims to make sure the South Carolina community is equipped with overdose awareness resources.
“Hey, you’d rather be safe than sorry,” Maguire said. “You may never know when you come across something. Even if you don’t think you will come across someone overdosing, if you have it on you and, you know, and you’re equipped to deal with it. The chances are that you could help save someone’s life.”
NARCAN is exceptionally useful because it will not hurt someone if you are unsure they are experiencing an opioid overdose, according to Maguire. When the element of doubt is taken away, it encourages bystanders to be less afraid to take action in an emergency situation.
Columbia Fire Department’s Assistant Chief Christopher Kip also expressed this.
“It is an important medication because there’s no other side effects, or little to no side effects,” Kip said. “So if it’s given by a mistake, it’s not going to harm a person. It for most purposes is just beneficial. So if first responders or if civilians witness someone unresponsive, find the person not breathing and in cardiac arrest and suspect that it could be an overdose, giving Narcan is a chance to save that person’s life, it’s not going to harm them.”
According to Kip, Columbia Fire Department distributed NARCAN over 200 times in 2022. NARCAN can also help save first responders that are exposed to Fentanyl and other opioids while on calls.
Both Prudé and Kip emphasized the importance of also calling 911 in any opioid overdose scenario in addition to administering NARCAN, and that civilians are protected by the amnesty law.
Those two factors can save a life.
“The value in it is that if we can get to that person and who, who may have overdosed for the first time or maybe at a point in their life where they can realize, ‘Hey, this is a mistake’, and we can give that person a chance for life,” said Kip.
NARCAN is free at community distribution sites.