Recovery Story, Substance Use

Narcan – for life!

Narcan Distribution Event Photo: Penn State Addiction Center for Translation.

That’s Life taken from The Sun https://news.thesunontheweb.com/

Posted by The Sun on September 02, 2020

By Anne Reeves – The Sun on the Web https://news.thesunontheweb.com/

 

The day Jeffrey Foley died, his Hershey home quickly filled with people he’d known throughout his short 21 years on the planet – fellow volunteer firefighters, police, family, friends, and other rescue personnel.

But the 30 or some visitors who rushed to his side that summer day weren’t there to say goodbye.

They were trying to save his life. And they almost failed.

Foley had overdosed on heroin likely cut with Fentanyl. He doesn’t remember much of that day back in 2011, but understands that first responders came close to marking him D.O.A.: Dead On Arrival.

“I remember waking up in the ambulance and being incredibly cold even though it was the dead of summer. I couldn’t breathe because I was coughing up blood. Then I became unconscious and the last thing I remember was when I hit the trauma table in the emergency room, struggling to breathe,”Foley said.

Doctors told Foley’s parents he had about a 30 percent chance of survival. He spent a couple of days in a coma, then remained on a breathing tube. He finally recovered.

Rescue personnel at his home had administered Narcan, a nasal spray that can quickly counteract the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose. It likely saved his life.

Fast forward nine years and now Foley is the one trying to save lives, including advocating for increasing the availability of Narcan. Now 29, he works as an advocate and community liaison at Water Gap Wellness, a private rehabilitation center in Delaware Water Gap for people struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Last weekend, Foley volunteered for a drive-thru Narcan Distribution Event coordinated by the Penn State Addiction Center for Translation. Volunteers dispensed 85 free Narcan kits with two doses each, according to Sarah Ballard, PS ACT coordinator, potentially saving 172 lives.

“We were very pleased since we’ve never done this before. I had no idea what to expect, but we had a good turnout,” she said.

The distribution attracted health care and law enforcement professionals, medical students, representatives of local advocacy groups, and friends and family of people who abuse drugs or are in recovery, Ballard said. Administering the drug doesn’t require medical training.

Narcan can cost anywhere from $90 or more in a pharmacy, she said. Helping make the drug readily available not only saves lives, but helps erase some of the stigma attached to substance abuse.

Pharmacists at the event answered questions about Narcan and opioids and handed out drug disposal packets and medication lock boxes.

“We had a lot of medical students, which was exciting to me. Studies show that early training in Narcan reversal helps build empathy for people who use substances and helps health care providers have more confidence in their ability to speak with them and advise them,” she said.

“There’s still a lot of stigma in the health care system against people who use substances. It’s just one of those blind spots.”

 ‘I Started Experimenting’

Foley said his substance abuse started at a young age and quickly spun out of control.

“I grew up in a loving household with two wonderful parents. Alcohol and substances weren’t prevalent in my household whatsoever. At a young age, I struggled with a lot of social anxiety and depression.

During my adolescent years, I wasn’t necessarily sure exactly where I fit in and struggled to maintain relationships with peers,” he said.

“At 13, I started experimenting with illicit substances as a way to cope with my mental health. At 14, I was prescribed an abundance of opiates for a dental procedure which led me to developing a dependency. I was arrested several times, dropped out of college three times, lost everything of value, and destroyed any relationship that I had.

“Leading up to my overdose, I was a shell of a human being. All hope was lost and I didn’t expect to live to the age of 21. I had no regard for my own well being and took unnecessary risks to support my disorder.”

Even having a near-death experience didn’t keep Foley away from drugs. He continued using for another three years.

“Unfortunately, after that night, my life didn’t change. I didn’t really have any will to live anymore, so it didn’t faze me at all,” he said.

Sober since 2014, when he “finally committed to a life of recovery and redemption,” Foley said he no longer craves the drugs that once ruled his life.

“It’s really out of sight, out of mind. I’m so far removed from it,” he said.

“My own experience allows me to meet individuals struggling with substance use disorder where they are at. I am able to speak to them from my own personal experiences and lead them to help. I’ve been where they are and know the internal battle they experience on a daily basis.”

‘Harm Reduction’

Foley said he keeps track of the people he knows who have overdosed on drugs – 54 – including some former Hershey High School classmates. Narcan helps save lives.

“The same as if someone has a heart attack, first responders are going to perform life-saving measures to keep you alive. It also brings awareness to the opioid epidemic and provides a safe space for people struggling to ask for assistance,” Foley said.

The Hershey and Hummelstown areas are not immune from the scourge of addiction, Ballard said.

“People are overdosing here, but you don’t hear about it. This is an affluent and close community and we know people who are using who are not presenting at the emergency room. That’s part of the stigma. They’re afraid to run into someone they know,” she said.

“If people are using underground, then it’s even more important to get Narcan out there. We need to treat this disease like diabetes or heart disease.”

Ballard said she’d like to “take the show on the road” with more distribution events, including one in Upper Dauphin. It’s harder to find Narcan in rural areas, she said.

“Having Narcan on hand is like wearing a seatbelt – it’s harm reduction. To me having Narcan on hand means that I can help save a life. It doesn’t matter why. It’s somebody’s life and that is precious,” Ballard said.

The distribution event was funded by a grant from the Penn State Community Health Department; Dauphin County Drug and Alcohol Programs; Dauphin County Board of Commissioners; PS ACT, the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition, and ADAPT Pharma who provided the Narcan at a discount.

For more information, contact PSACT@pennstatehealth. psu.edu or visit med.psu.edu/addiction.

Contact Jeff Foley at 717-317-3308 or jfoley@watergapwellness.com.

“Seek out help if you are struggling. Mental health and substance abuse disorder is not a sign of weakness. There are plenty of peer support groups, counseling services, and treatment centers available that can get you connected to the resources you need anytime,” Foley said.

 

Written by Anne Reeves

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