New Program Aims to Prevent Drug Overdoses Locally

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You come across your friend or loved one passed out on the floor. They’re unconscious and aren’t responding. As you listen to their breathing get slower and watch their face go pale, you reach for the phone to call 911, in the hopes EMS will arrive in time.  The reality that your loved one has overdosed on opioids starts to set in. Precious seconds go by as the risk of irreversible brain damage goes up and their chance of survival goes down.

What do you do?

One option is to be prepared. A new program spearheaded by Dr. Janie Simmons, a medical anthropologist and Principal Investigator for the National Development and Research Institute (NDRI), is hoping to help locals do just that by providing naloxone, an emergency medication that blocks or reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, for free.

The reality of opioid addiction is a hard pill to swallow. With a huge stigma attached to the subject of addiction, it may seem easier to flush the subject down the drain. However the problem is very real and is taking place in our own backyard. Nationwide, 37 percent of families have someone that is dependent on opioids. Across New York City as a whole, unintentional drug overdose deaths are on the rise, increasing from 800 in 2014 to 937 in 2015, according to an NYC Epi Data Brief.  

The problem may be bigger in other neighborhoods, especially in parts of the Bronx and Staten Island, but Rockaway has its own frightening statistics. According to the latest Department of Health Community Health Profile for the Rockaway peninsula and Broad Channel, the area ranks the highest in Queens for alcohol- and drug-related hospitalizations. The report, released in 2015, reflects data mostly collected in 2012. The data shows that there were 748 per 100,000 people across the peninsula, hospitalized due to drug use in 2012. 

According to Simmons, this rate is starting to go down in the local area, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a concern. “If you look at NYC Department of Health data, you have fairly high opioid use in the area. It has gone down a little, but it’s still quite high,” Simmons said. She also emphasized that no one is exempt from becoming a victim of overdose. “The kind of demographic that is especially impacted now are white working-class males, a lot of which live in Rockaway. Veterans are also at risk because of chronic pain and trauma. Nationally, every demographic is being affected from men to women, young to old, whites to blacks, everyone,” Simmons said.

New York City is on a mission to curb these statistics, and the Rockaway area is about to get a dose of help thanks to a grant obtained for a program run by Simmons. As a resident of Rockaway for the past 12 years, Simmons fought hard to get some help for her community. “I’ve really wanted to do something for Rockaway. We tend to be forgotten since we live far from City Hall, so I’ve been waving this flag to get funding for Rockaway,” Simmons said. Through the Fund for Public Health in New York, in conjunction with the NYC Department of Health, she was able to obtain a grant that will allow her to run a four-month program that will educate and prepare local residents on how to stop an overdose with use of the antidote naloxone.

Dr. Simmons’s colleagues at NDRI often work with homeless veterans and youth and collaborate with the City to help get research participants, or users, access to naloxone. However, she wanted to expand this effort to include those who may not use drugs themselves, but who may have someone in their life who does. “We usually focus on people who are using opioids and making sure they’re equipped because they’re more likely to be around other users, but this effort is much broader. We aim to throw a wider net and educate a wider community. Overdose can happen to anyone. These drugs are available through prescriptions and a lot of parents may be concerned about their kids or other family members. We want to let people know that these drugs are dangerous, even if someone has a prescription from a doctor. A person can get a respiratory infection or have a beer and their body metabolizes the drug differently and they can easily overdose, even if they’re taking the prescribed dose. Then sometimes we hear about kids getting into medicine cabinets and thinking its candy. We want people to be aware and ready. Time is brain. The quicker you can get naloxone into somebody, the better it’s going to be. Rather than wait for an ambulance to arrive, you can do something to save a loved one or neighbor,” Simmons said.

Through the campaign RockawayGetsNaloxone, Simmons, as well as an assistant, will be holding events, as well as visiting various civic and other community meetings to educate the public about drug overdose in the hopes of reducing the stigma behind it, explaining how naloxone can help, and distributing naloxone at no cost.

There are two ways to provide naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, to an overdose victim: through an easy-to-use nasal spray or by syringe. The relatively new Narcan nasal spray and Evzio, an auto-injector by kaleo can be obtained at local pharmacies (CVS, Duane Reade) but insurance is necessary because these products are expensive. But RockawayGetsNaloxone is dispensing free naloxone kits supplied by the city containing another widely used nasal spray.  The kits also come with instructions on how to use naloxone and what follow-up steps to take after administering it.

Simmons will be discussing more and distributing the first naloxone kits at an inaugural event at Whit’s End in Riis Park on Thursday, March 30, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. However this won’t be the only opportunity to obtain naloxone. Over the next four months, Simmons will be at community meetings, and organizations and businesses are encouraged to reach out to Simmons to host their own distribution event. Families are also encouraged to reach out to her. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 212-845-4558. The Rockaway Times will also list distribution events in its Things to Do section. Simmons says that if this four-month pilot program is a success, it could be extended to a year.

“The whole point of this program is to bring awareness of this problem, destigmatize the topic through education and hopefully prepare people for what to do in the event of an overdose. It’s a community approach and I think it’s going to be well-received and effective,” Simmons said.

For more information about Naloxone and the RockawayGetsNaloxone program, check out Simmons’ website www.GetNaloxoneNow.org.and follow GetNaloxoneNow on Facebook and Twitter #getnaloxonenow.

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