READING, PA (August 5, 2019) – There have been times when I’ve encountered individuals and I haven’t been sure if they were having an emotional or mental breakdown, if they were experiencing a medical issue, or if they were suffering from the effects of substance abuse. So when I learned about an opportunity for me and my colleagues to be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose and know how to respond, I welcomed it.
Last month, I invited Brian Kammerer, the Drug and Alcohol Program Specialist at the Council on Chemical Abuse (COCA), to make a presentation at Berks County Community Foundation. I know Brian because we are both members of the Berks County Opioid Task Force, which was formed to assess and respond to the local impact of the opioid epidemic.
One of the efforts of the task force is related to Act 139 of 2014. Act 139 was signed by Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, to allow first responders, the general public and community organizations, such as Berks County Community Foundation, to have and administer naloxone to individuals experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid (e.g., certain prescription medications or heroin). When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing within two to eight minutes.
Act 139 allows any resident of Pennsylvania to print a prescription for naloxone and have it filled at any pharmacy. Act 139 also provides that you will not be arrested or charged with parole violations or drug offenses if you call 9-1-1 in the event of an overdose and remain with the person who is in distress.
In 2015, COCA began a community distribution and training program for naloxone. Since the program’s inception, COCA has distributed 821 naloxone kits to Berks County residents and 1,233 Narcan kits to Berks County first responders. COCA has trained more than 50 Berks County organizations, groups, and businesses to administer naloxone.
Due to the stigma of addiction, “overdose reversals” are often never reported. But we know there have been at least 19 individuals who were saved by some of the 821 naloxone kits that COCA distributed to Berks County residents. Also, since 2017, there have been at least 53 “overdose reversals” that were achieved by Berks County police officers.
I recently attended a conference where U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams talked about the need for people to be able to recognize when an overdose is happening and to know how to respond. He said you are more likely to encounter someone who needs help due to an overdose than you are to come across someone who needs CPR.
A key part of the Community Foundation’s mission is to support programs and initiatives that improve the quality of life for the residents of Berks County. So if we could do more than improve a life and instead save a life, we were excited about getting trained and playing our part. Brian’s presentation to us was relaxed, informative and interesting. We encourage all community agencies who haven’t yet participated to contact Brian at COCA. You won’t regret it.
For more information about the Berks County Opioid Task Force, visit its page on COCA’s website.
Thanks for taking a few moments to read this.
Health And Human Services Program Officer