Drug use is not a new phenomenon in America. From the “War on Drugs” in the 1970s to today’s opioid crisis, fighting and preventing illegal drug use has been a monumental campaign across the country.
For many addicts, the risk of overdose can be a deadly consequence. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the number of Washingtonians who died from drug overdoses jumped 39% between 2019 and 2020. In the city of Aberdeen, work is underway to try to raise awareness and educate the public about overdoses.
On Wednesday August 31st, Community Integrated Health Services (CIHS) held their first annual Overdose Awareness Event in downtown Aberdeen.
The three-hour event, which coincided with International Overdose Awareness Day, was attended by more than 100 people and featured a number of local behavioral health agencies, such as Grays Harbor Treatment Solutions Opioid Use Disorder Program, Grays Harbor County Public Health and Summit Pacific Medical. Center among others. The goal was to provide education and resources in a home-like environment that included free food, t-shirts, gifts, and a bouncy house.
The most important message of the evening was to raise awareness by fighting stigma. Sarah White, grants administrator for Willapa Behavior Health, said drug overdose issues need to be discussed more.
She said events like the one in Aberdeen city center can empower people to understand how to collectively help those in need.
“We have a lot of stigma gaps in our community around behavioral health, SUD (substance use disorder) and OUD (opioid use disorder) awareness ), so having this event on Overdose Awareness Day is really important to our community because it’s not talked about enough,” White said.
“We just want to advocate for a positive awareness that everyone encounters the struggle with addiction at some point in their life, whether it’s themselves or a loved one.”
White went on to say that overdose is a very difficult issue in Grays Harbor County and that she hopes it will be the first of many in the years to come.
In partnership with Willapa Behavioral Health and the Grays Harbor Health Department, the event provided training and distribution of fentanyl test strips and NARCAN nasal sprays by medical professionals. Demonstrations were also presented to the public to learn how to administer each of the products.
Kenneth Bangs, who is a registered nurse for CIHS, said access to NARCAN can save the lives of people who overdose.
“Death from overdose is something that is completely preventable if you have the right tools. NARCAN is designed to work against opioids like Oxycodone, Vicodin, Fentanyl and stuff like that. It doesn’t help with meth, but most of the time you don’t know what someone is overdosing on. So if you see someone go down and you’re going to step in, NARCAN is probably the best thing for them,” Bangs explained.
Bangs noted that whenever someone decides to use NARCAN, they should first call 911 so that emergency medical services (EMS) personnel can come and provide assistance if NARCAN is not available. not suitable for the drug a person is overdosing on. According to him, depending on the excessive amount of opioids consumed by a person, it could require more than one NARCAN nasal spray.
When asked how many supplies of NARCAN he had available to the public, Bangs pointed out that he originally had 60 double-packed boxes of NARCAN nasal spray and within 30 minutes he had none. had more than 12.
“A lot of people are interested in it and a lot of people have family or friends who may be addicted and want to make sure they’re prepared if something happens,” Bangs said. “Most importantly, I’m thrilled with how the turnout has been so early in the event.”
Although this is the first year that an overdose awareness event has been held for residents of Grays Harbour, the desire and desire has existed for many years for members of the community.
Sherri Reeves, who resides in Aberdeen, said in her five years as a case manager at CIHS she knew the community needed a positive outreach programme.
“I’ve lived in Aberdeen all my life; I know what my community needs, and a resident doesn’t have to realize that drugs are a problem here. We just need to provide positive reinforcement and help those who are struggling and reduce the stigma of people with addictions,” Reeves said.
“This event would not be possible without the support and partnership of many local behavioral health agencies. A healthier community means safe communities with less crime.