The Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities holds a free curbside Narcan training event at Foundations Recovery Network in downtown Royal Oak March 12.

The Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities holds a free curbside Narcan training event at Foundations Recovery Network in downtown Royal Oak March 12.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Free training aims to reduce opioid overdoses during pandemic

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published March 26, 2021

 Recovery Support Assistant Amanda Choma, of Waterford, explains how to use Narcan nasal spray.

Recovery Support Assistant Amanda Choma, of Waterford, explains how to use Narcan nasal spray.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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ROYAL OAK — The Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities is taking the fight against opioid overdoses to the streets with free curbside Narcan training.

While overdose deaths are on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, awareness of the issue and an empathetic approach, combined with training, can help save lives.

On March 12, the alliance co-hosted a free curbside training event at the Royal Oak-based Foundations Recovery Network, 117 W. Third St., west of Main Street. It was part of a series, with the next free training scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. April 2 at CNS Healthcare, 1841 N. Perry St. in Pontiac.

The training includes information on recognizing signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose, quick actions to help reverse an opioid overdose, how to properly use Narcan nasal spray, and a set of two doses of nasal spray with instructions per participant.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, suggesting an acceleration in deaths caused by the pandemic.

According to the American Addiction Centers, Michigan saw an 11% increase in new treatment inquiries from March 2020 to July 2020 compared to the same period in 2019; the national increase was 16%.

“The pandemic has brought about increased isolation and economic strife, which has caused many to experience unmanageable levels of depression and anxiety,” Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities Community Relations Manager Tracy Chirikas said.

According to the alliance, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in Michigan.

“We are concerned about the increase in accidental overdoses over the past year and decided we need to bring the training to where people are in the community,” Julie Brenner, president and CEO of the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, said in a prepared statement. “We have saved at least seven lives since the pandemic began with our trainings and are here to help those who need it the most.”

Chirikas led the March 12 curbside training in Royal Oak and also leads free hourlong virtual training classes offered through the alliance on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Chirikas said that most opioid addictions begin as a result of being prescribed opioid-based pain medication after medical procedures.

The medication works when opioids attach to receptors in the brain to immediately and temporarily block pain; however, the tolerance builds and when a person takes too much, or what they are taking is adulterated with fentanyl, too many receptors in the brain signal the body to slow and ultimately stop breathing.

Without intervention, the overdose will result in cardiac arrest.

Fentanyl and carfentanyl, a more powerful elephant tranquilizer, are synthetic opioids and can be lethal.

Chirikas explained that entrepreneurial drug dealers have adapted to produce their own pills using synthetic opioids, which brings the price down but the potential for overdose up. Their products, while often identical to pharmacy pills, are not being manufactured in a controlled lab setting and are therefore that much more dangerous.

She said one 80-milligram tablet prescription drug, such as Oxycontin, sells for $1 per milligram on the street. For a habit of six to eight 80-milligram tablets of Oxycontin, she said, the price ranges from $480 to $700 per day to stay out of pain and avoid becoming sick. Heroin, however, sells for $12 to $15 per bindle, she said.

Other opioids include morphine, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine and tramadol. For a full list or to check if a prescription is an opioid, visit drugs.com or download the app.

“Oftentimes, when people get to this part of the disease cycle, they are at a loss for how that even occurred,” Chirikas said. “It was never on their radar to become addicted to these kinds of medications.”

In Michigan, she said, doctors do not automatically refill prescriptions under 30 days and require another doctor’s appointment to do so.

“The brain does not differentiate between emotional or physical pain,” Chirikas said. “They desperately want to stop using, but the body and the brain are just in conflict constantly between the body screaming out in pain and the brain letting them know there is a source to treat that pain.”

In order to reverse the effects of an accidental opioid overdose, individuals can use Narcan nasal spray, the key chemical agent being naloxone. Naloxone will replace the opioids on the brain’s pain receptors.

The first step is to call 911 and identify a suspected accidental overdose, then glove up and check if a person is conscious.

To use Narcan nasal spray, individuals should plug one nostril and administer the first 4-milligram dose in the other nasal passage as directed, then wait three to five minutes and perform chest compressions if they know how. In case of no response, they should administer the second dose in the same fashion.

“If (opioids are knocked off the brain’s pain receptors and replaced by naloxone), the individuals who accidentally overdosed will be in immediate pain but will also start breathing very quickly,” Chirikas said. “It is critical and imperative to engage 911 first and foremost, because chances are they are going to need more than the two doses you’ll be receiving from us.”

On March 12, Abby Mealy was among those leaving group therapy to take advantage of the free curbside training event at Foundations Recovery Network. A resident of Holt, near Lansing, Mealy was a gymnast who trained at Twistars USA Gymnastics Club from age 2 until she quit at 17.

She detailed abuse at the hands of former Twinstars owner and Olympics coach John Geddert, who died by suicide after being charged with human trafficking and criminal sexual conduct last month, and former Michigan State University doctor and convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar.

“Larry Nassar was my doctor and John Geddert was my coach,” Mealy said. “I had no mental health at all. I wasn’t seeing a therapist. I was just self medicating with whatever I could.”

She said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture was all she knew, and everything was about winning and being a champion. Nassar prescribed the athletes pain medication to work and Adderall to wake up at practice, she said.

She competed with a broken foot, as well as with fractures in her back. She had three surgeries on a torn shoulder, then had to go “right back to practice.” She also had two elbow surgeries and knee surgery.

“I was in so much pain constantly,” she said. “I was terrified of being sober because I just really thought I needed all of these drugs. I was so scared that I could not live without drugs, but really, the drugs were just killing me.”

She said she was glad she was able to get help and that the Narcan training was empowering.

“I feel so much better knowing that — I hope I don’t ever have to use it — but knowing I can, and I know how and I can help someone if need be,” Mealy said. “It was so easy, and it makes so much sense.”

For more information, visit achcmi.org or call (248) 221-7101.

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