CRANFORD, NJ — Barry wouldn’t move.
He wasn’t responding when his name was called and rescue breathing failed to resuscitate him.
Rahsema Saunders feared he was having an opioid overdose, so she called emergency services. Then, she quickly grabbed a 4-milligram dose of Narcan, opened the package, put the nozzle into one of Barry’s nostrils, pushed the plunger and waited for him to start breathing again.
Barry was fine. The medical mannequin was being used by Saunders, a nurse with JSA Health, to demonstrate how to administer Narcan, a brand name for the drug naloxone, which treats opioid overdose.
The training session at the Cranford Community Center was part of the “Union County Fights Back Against the Opioid Crisis” program sponsored by the Union County Opioid Task Force and Prevention Links, a Roselle-based nonprofit organization that addresses the abuse of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and related issues.
Approximately 20 residents attended the free Jan. 17 training session to learn how to administer Narcan, which knocks opioids such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet and Dilaudid off brain receptors and allows the victim to begin breathing again, Saunders said.
Each resident in attendance was given a free kit with a 4-milligram dose of Narcan, just enough to possibly save someone’s life.
“The goal of this training is much like CPR training for the public — the more people trained, the more chances we all collectively have in saving a life,” Cranford Police Chief Ryan Greco said in a press release earlier this month.
Opioid addiction and overdoses have increased sharply across the country during the past several years.
According the Cranford Police Department, first responders deployed Narcan 30 times last year, up from 17 times in 2017. There were three opioid overdose deaths in 2018.
And according to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, police across the county administered Narcan 307 times in 2018.
In 2018, police used Narcan in Linden 66 times; in Union, 65; Elizabeth, 25; and Plainfield, 17. In Mountainside and New Providence Narcan was used once and Fanwood police didn’t use it at all.
Greco said the statistics underscore why it’s important for people to attend a training session like the one at the Community Center.
According to Saunders, Narcan can be administered even if you are unsure the victim has overdosed on opioids because it has no harmful effects.
“Let’s say this person did cocaine and had a heart attack, and they were using heroin as well. The Narcan is going to target the heroin, it’s not going to negatively or positively affect the heart attack or the cocaine. If you are in doubt and you don’t know exactly what this person has taken, still give them the Narcan because you can’t harm them just by giving them Narcan,” she said.
Those attending the Jan. 17 training session were male and female, both young and old, and all united by the desire to learn how to administer a drug that could save someone’s life.
“I said, ‘You know what? Better to have the knowledge than not to have the knowledge,’” attendee David Salomon said.
When it was suggested that opioid use will one day soon affect everyone directly or indirectly, Salomon said it already had touched his life.
“But,” he said, “that did not provoke me. It was preventative. I always look to the future and try to be as prepared as possible. I work in the Tri-State Area and I’m in all different environments, from the top to the bottom. In that role, I want to always be able to help somebody in the event someone needs it.”
Free Narcan training sessions are planned for Springfield, Rahway, Scotch Plains, Elizabeth, Roselle, Summit and Plainfield.
Greco said it is important for residents to learn how to administer Narcan.
“Any loss of life in the township of Cranford is tragic, and especially the loss of life due to the national opioid crisis we are exposed to,” he said. “Education, outreach, prevention and awareness are the only means to effectively reduce the frequency of these incidents. We as a community need to help break down the social stigma associated with opioid addiction.”