A Naloxone (aka Narcan) kit distributed to combat the opioid crisis. Credit: New2Me86 via Shutterstock

With Fentanyl-involved overdose deaths continuing to rise through 2022, learning how to administer Naloxone, the synthetic drug used to help revive someone who has overdosed on an opioid, should be just as common as learning how to apply the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR, said Catherine Hazlett, program director or Fairfield CARES Community Coalition

Fairfield CARES is offering, in partnership with Fairfield AMR, free monthly community Narcan (a brand name of Naloxone) training sessions.  Each attendee, 18 years old and older, will receive a free Narcan kit once the 90-minute session is done. The next session is scheduled for Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. 

“The use of opioids, but fentanyl in particular, has just gone crazy,” Hazlett said. 

According to the coalition, between 2015 and 2022, nearly 8,000 residents in Connecticut lost their lives to a drug overdose, the vast majority of which involved an opioid, such as fentanyl. Fairfield County saw 1,219 of these deaths and there were 46 in the town of Fairfield. 

According to the state Department of Public Health, the percentage of fentanyl overdose deaths remains high in 2022.  Out of 515 overdose deaths so far in 2022, 85.4 percent were fentanyl involved. Out of 1,532 deaths in 2021, 85 percent involved were fentanyl. 

The Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive, a reporting mechanism for opioid overdoses through emergency medical services, says out of the 357 calls to the Connecticut Poison Control Center in May, 21 were fatal drug overdose cases. Naloxone (either one or multiple doses) was administered in all but 47 of the 336 non-fatal overdoses. In the 21 fatalities, there were 13 cases where no naloxone was administered. 

Hazlett said attendees of the Fairfield CARES’s Naloxone training sessions will learn about what an opioid is, the impacts of opioids on the brain, how to recognize an overdose, how to administer the Naloxone, where to get it, how to safely store it and make people aware it does have a shelf life.  

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz has long called for Connecticut residents to familiarize themselves with how to use Narcan, as the opioid epidemic affects everyone. 

“The medication works by pausing the brain’s opioid receptors and rapidly stopping the effects of opioids, allowing the person experiencing the overdose to breathe normally,” Bysiewicz said. “The more residents who are trained on how to provide Narcan and carry it on a regular basis, the more lives we can save. Receiving this training will provide residents with the skills and knowledge to save a life.”

Mental health and safety officials say there is very little risk to administering Narcan in a suspected overdose, as the state’s Good Samaritan law protects such intervention and there are no known adverse effects to a person who has received a dose. 

Enfield Police Chief Alaric Fox said his community continues to see opioid overdose deaths, but that there also are Narcan saves – he estimates one person a month. Every officer in Enfield is trained in administering Narcan. 

Fox points out that there have also been lives saved when family members have administered Narcan. It is easy enough to give the medication, even in the event it is administered when there isn’t an overdose.  

“My understanding is we are not going to see ill effects,” Fox said. 

Enfield, Manchester and Vernon police departments have policies in place to get a person in touch with resources if they request it. The Enfield police recently reminded the public of this policy via its Facebook page. 

“That reminder, to either folks suffering from addiction, or maybe to their family members, would only seem to help,” Fox said. 

Ken Welch, president of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, said he knew something had to be done when Wallingford experienced more than 50 overdose deaths from 2010 to 2013. 

Most of those who died were under 30 years old. That coalition’s members use a grassroots approach to battling the opioid crisis by maintaining visibility in town, holding events such as its “What’s in The Bag ” program, and handing out brochures and putting up billboards.

He said the Coalition for a Better Wallingford frequently does Narcan training. While the training now is mostly conducted as part of a forum, Welch will go over what to do on a one-on-one basis if someone needs the information.  

“We probably hand out 20 to 30 doses of Narcan a year, and I meet with everyone personally, and pull out these instructions and spend ten minutes with them,” Welch said. “If you wait until you need it, you won’t be able to think straight.” 

In addition to being trained on how to use Narcan, Hazlett said Fairfield CARES is also starting to host QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer) training to help people learn what they can do to help prevent suicide. 

“We have at least one or two slides in the Narcan training that bring that connection,” Hazlett said. “What’s hard about identifying the overdoses as intentional and unintentional, you just don’t know. Some of those overdoses are in fact suicides. It’s just unless a note is left or other indications from other signs what we train people to look for in terms of suicide, then it is really hard to identify.”

Fairfield CARES is now focusing its QPR training on area churches, but Hazlett said she hopes to expand that training to middle school parents. 

“We are going to be doing more of these come the fall, helping parents understand that it is really important to check in with your child on a regular basis, to really sit down, look them in the eye and say, ‘really, how are you doing,’” Hazlett said. 

Fairfield CARES and the Coalition for a Better Wallingford were just a couple of organizations in the state that received $5,000 mini grants under the Connecticut State Opioid Response Initiative. 

As part of this initiative, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services funds the five  Regional Behavioral Health Action Organizations (RBHAOs) to provide the mini-grants to community coalitions throughout the state for opioid awareness and prevention activities.

The grants were awarded to groups in rural, urban and suburban areas, and programs receiving the money were given some leeway to accommodate the needs of their particular communities, according to Andrea Duarte, who oversees the grants. 

Welch said another project funded under the mini-grant is being able to send people to the offices of 60 prescribers in Wallingford to make them aware of alternatives to opioids for pain control. 

Welch said, in the end, the Coalition for a Better Wallingford wants to remind people of its presence and its mission.

“We care and we want to make the community better,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”