Last September, about 90 volunteers, including members of the Monongalia County Quick Response Team (QRT), distributed more than 700 two-dose kits of naloxone and instructed individuals on how to use it.
Seven months later, members of the Monongalia County QRT will be at it again from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 7, with the goal of handing out more than 2,000 doses, once again in two-dose kits, of the drug also called Narcan, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
“Our community has made great strides in working together to fight the opioid epidemic,” said Russell Wyatt, a peer recovery coach with West Virginia Sober Living and a member of the QRT, who led the organizing effort of the original Save a Life Day. “I believe this is a great opportunity for us to continue the good work.”
This time, in addition to teaching naloxone administration and giving away free kits, COVID-19 vaccines will be available at five locations. “Additionally, we’ll provide rapid HIV testing at the Sabraton McDonald’s,” said Brittany Irick, coordinator of the Monongalia County QRT.
Eleven stations staffed with about eight volunteers each will be set up at locations around Monongalia County. Anyone interested in learning more about naloxone is encouraged to stop at one of the stations.
“Our goal is to save as many lives as possible,” said Jon Dower, director of operations of West Virginia Sober Living and a member of the Monongalia County QRT. “Education and dispelling myths related to naloxone allow for a reduction in stigma and encourages our community to be part of the solution to this disease plaguing our community and our state.”
The opioid epidemic that has afflicted the nation has hit West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia hard. It’s been exactly three years since members of the Monongalia County QRT began meeting at Monongalia County Health Department, which secured grant funding for the group.
While the COVID pandemic has definitely had negative effects on individuals struggling with addiction, the rise of online virtual meetings, such as on Zoom, has allowed the QRT to grow beyond county and state borders, making it much easier to exchange ideas and find solutions to help people.
QRT members also hear about the latest trends of what drugs are out on the streets. “Recently, there has been an increased incidence of fentanyl added to other drugs like cocaine, methamphetamines and ecstasy,” said Joe Klass, chief of operations of MCHD Threat Preparedness and a paramedic, who teaches naloxone administration.
“There are also numerous reports of fentanyl being pressed into pills to resemble other types of medications,” Klass continued. “These types of counterfeit pills are often very difficult to spot. One of the takeaways from this is the importance of having naloxone and naloxone training, even if you don’t think you will have any interactions with opioids or opioid use.”
Dower believes that individuals should consider keeping naloxone in their first aid kits and home medicine cabinets.
“The community should understand that not all overdoses are related to substance misuse. There are accidental ingestions of pain medication by children and the elderly. If a home has opioid pain medication, I also encourage that naloxone be kept nearby,” Dower said.
QRT member Dan McCawley of WV PEERS, a network of certified peer recovery coaches (PRCs) with lived addiction experience, said that on Save a Life Day, individuals can be trained one-on-one or as small groups of people, based on whoever shows up at a location.
“We’ll just train them as they arrive, however it works best,” he added. “If just one person rolls up, we’ll teach them too.”
Locations this year are: five McDonald’s restaurants — Sabraton, Star City, Westover, Suncrest Towne Centre and Pierpont Center; the green space at WVU’s Mountainlair and the WVU Rec Center; Pierpont Landing Pharmacy; 7-Eleven in Blacksville; Hotel M on Saratoga Avenue and Woodland United Methodist Church on the Mileground.
Additionally, COVID vaccines will be available at the Sabraton and Westover McDonald’s; the Mountainlair; Hotel M and Woodland United Methodist Church. Individuals getting a second dose or a booster should bring a vaccination card if they can.
The Monongalia County QRT is made up of members representing Monongalia County Health Department, which secured grant funding to establish the group; WV PEERS; other addiction specialists; law enforcement; EMS; health care workers; social agencies; faith groups and more.
When MECCA 911, EMS or a police department get a report of an individual who has overdosed, it is shared to a HIPAA-compliant Dropbox account. WV PEERS members check reports frequently and try to make contact with the individual within 24 to 72 hours of the incident.
The main goal is to get the person into treatment. However, whether or not the individual is ready to commit to recovery, PRCs can also help with connections to health and social services as well as naloxone.
Volunteers will take a “train the trainer” course to learn how to administer naloxone, Dower said. Individuals can sign up at the Monongalia County QRT Facebook page by clicking a link provided in Save a Life Day posts.
Between members of WV PEERS and Klass, 2,200 naloxone trainings have been held in Monongalia County since the QRT’s inception, with 6,000 doses of naloxone distributed.
“The training is fast, easy and, more importantly, it will give participants the knowledge, skills and confidence to save a life,” Klass said. “In medicine, it’s rare to have a drug that is easy to administer, highly effective and that works quickly. Naloxone is all three of these things, and it’s important that we promote its use and give access to this life-saving drug in all populations.”
Also, instructions on the box provide a quick refresher course, as does the Monongalia County QRT’s naloxone video, which can be easily accessed by typing in “Monongalia County Health Department” and “naloxone” at YouTube.com.
For up-to-date information on health and wellness in Monongalia County, check out monchd.org and follow the health department on Facebook and Twitter @WVMCHD and on Instagram at #wvmchd.