Professionals shed light on the opioid epidemic

Photo by Brian Boye
Photo by Brian Boye

By Brian Boye, Staff Writer

A panel of experts discussed the opioid epidemic and the role of narcan at St. John Fisher College on Nov. 15.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans a day die from opioid overdoses. Narcan is a medication that is used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Christian Gardener, Clinical Nurse Leader in the Adult Emergency Department at Rochester General Hospital, said that he sees at least one person die every week because of an opioid overdose. However, Gardener does use Narcan in certain situations.

“I think at the end of the day, we look at it as we saved someone’s life,” said Gardener in response to using Narcan.

In addition to Gardener, a number of panelists were also present. Those included, Scott Peters, Deputy Chief of the Rochester Police Department Operations Bureau, Jason Deshaies, Rite Aid Pharmacy Manager, Jim Phillips, a paramedic, and Karl Williams, a St. John Fisher College professor.

First the five panelists introduced themselves and then described their experiences with people who have overdosed and their use of Narcan. Afterwards, the audience split up for two 20-minute question and answer sessions with two of the panelists.

Peters discussed the statistics of the number of overdoses in Monroe County from January to October 2017. According to those statistics, the average age of an overdose victim is 36.8 years. He stated that most of the heroin used in Rochester comes from Philadelphia, New York City and the surrounding tri-state areas.

“Rochester has been getting hit hard with heroin overdose deaths high above the national average for years,” Peters said.

Deshaies has been involved with two overdose situations at his store, which is at the intersection of Goodman and Norton. This Rite Aid participates in the Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP). ESAP is a New York state law that allows people to purchase up to 10 hypodermic needles from a pharmacy without a prescription. The law was created to prevent the spread of blood borne diseases.

Deshaies acknowledged that dispensing narcotics and hypodermic needles is a “recipe for disaster” because people have access to the restroom in Rite Aid. As a result, there is a possibility that people may overdose in the store.

Although Narcan is available, Phillips still questions the ethics of using this drug in all overdose cases. He has been able to save many lives by using a bag valve mask, which is a device used when a victim’s breathing has failed, without immediately turning to Narcan.

Williams teaches pharmacy law and ethics at Fisher. He addressed the topic of Narcan in the classroom.

“We’ve had numerous increases in the rates of opioid deaths, and both the state and federal government have tried to reckon with that in some way,” said Williams. “In one way or another and it seems like the more we dig to try and rectify the problem, the deeper the hole is.”

Peters noted the double-edged sword aspect of Narcan.

“Having this Narcan here is a blessing because we’re saving lives, but it’s also a curse because people feel invincible,” he said.

The event was sponsored by Lavery Library and the Wegmans School of Pharmacy student chapter of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

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