Lifesaving drug, Narcan will be given out for free starting this semester
Starting this semester students, faculty, and members of the community will be able to obtain Naloxone, the lifesaving drug that reverses opioid overdoses, for free and without a prescription on campus. Every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the Humboldt County Public Health Van will be parked behind the Student Health Center where people can pick up Naloxone, also known as Narcan, as well as access other services.
“Narcan is a preventative measure used to prevent overdoses, it is a lifesaving medication,” said Mira Friedman, lead for Health Education and Clinic Support Services. “The van has been offering HIV and hepatitis testing, as well as PREP navigation services for a couple years now. They recently added Narcan.”
Humboldt county is in the midst of an opioid epidemic and the Narcan services are part of a growing outreach to prevent overdoses. According to a report by the County Administrative Office, “In 2016 there were 156,444 opioid prescriptions, or more than 114 prescriptions per 100 residents.” The two following years saw a slight drop in numbers, with 2017 having 135,617 prescriptions issued and 2018 having 123,616 prescriptions written out to a population of about 136,000, according to statistics from California Department of Public Health.
Heroin seizures are also on the rise in Humboldt. In 2018 there were about 35 pounds of heroin seized in Humboldt county, compared to 2017 when only 10 pounds were seized. So far in 2019, one recent drug bust resulted in the seizure of six pounds of heroin along with $6,000 in cash on Jan. 28.
According to a public records request there were 57 deaths due to drugs and alcohol in 2018 in all of Humboldt, and 22 of them were linked to opioids. So far, Narcan is the only drug approved by the FDA that has the ability to be administered as a nasal spray and is designed to be used without any sort of significant training. However, Friedman and a social work intern will be leading training sessions on the use of Narcan later this semester. Friedman said that the sessions will teach students and other attendees about opioids and provide more background knowledge about Narcan. The trainings that Friedman will be leading are in collaboration with the Humboldt County Public Health Department.
“They have been wonderful collaborators,” Friedman said. “They’ve worked with the library and the police departments.”
Brian Ahearn, Chief of Police for the city of Arcata, said that his officers do not carry Narcan, but said that a few officers have gone through training.
“The preservation of life takes precedent over any other outcome,” Chief Ahearn said, “including law enforcement.”
Opioid use affects people of all backgrounds and can plague the general public. Jessica Smith, the program director at the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction located in Eureka, said that they offer Narcan services and a clean needle exchange among other services to a large number of people, some of whom come in multiple times a week.
“We see on average 20-35 people a day,” Smith said. “In a week, we can see upwards of 200 people. We provide our services because we understand that we are amidst an epidemic and overdose prevention is the first step.”
Smith said that they have experienced some push back from the local residents because of their needle exchange program, but felt that it was unjust since they are one of the few places in the county that have programs where addicts can access clean syringes. Smith also said that they keep track of how many people come back for more Narcan and ask them if they had to use it to prevent an overdose.
“Having the proper tools to stay alive is the first step in making better life choices,” Smith said. “By empowering them, we believe they will become the most effective tool at preventing overdoses.”
A previous version of this article listed the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction as the only place in Humboldt County that provides clean syringes. (Updated: 1:42am 02/06/19)