On her way to a Narcan training session this morning, Kristin Walker witnessed an overdose.
A man was lying on the sidewalk at 12th and Chestnut. He was young, in his 20s, and he was out of it but breathing.
Walker kneeled down and tried to wake him. Nothing.
“People just walked past,” she said. “I guess because he was breathing they let him be.”
So she called 911 and waited for a colleague. Then she walked a few blocks to Eighth and Market streets, where the Department of Behavioral Heath and nonprofit Prevention Point were holding a Narcan training session aimed at teaching Philadelphians how to handle similar emergencies. After the session, Walker recalled the man had been holding a candy wrapper in his hand, one of the signs of drug use discussed by Prevention Point’s Elvis Rosado.
Walker’s story of experiencing a likely overdose on the way to learning how to treat overdoses is yet another example of how common it’s become to to witness somebody struggling with drug usage. The opioid epidemic is expected to kill 1,200 in Philly this year. Three people died overnight, said Rick Tull, a supervisor with the Department of Behavioral Health.
Many of the attendees at this morning’s session had stories like Walker’s. When Tull asked if anybody knew someone who’d overdosed, at least half of the approximately 100 people in attendance raised a hand. He wanted them to learn how common opioid usage had become and know they could make a difference.
“In our mind,” Tull said, “Narcan should be in your medicine cabinet.”
After the morning’s experience and the training session, Walker, a nurse with the Health Federation of Philadelphia, plans on purchasing Narcan with her health insurance. So does Andrea Johnson.
She’s the CEO and founder of the nonprofit Girl U Can Do It, Inc. and a block captain in West Philadelphia, near the county line. Two months after moving back from San Antonio, Johnson has already witnessed overdoses in her neighborhood, particularly around 69th Street Station, almost every day.
“You see people sleeping,” she said, “and you’re not sure they’re alive.”
Rosemarie Murphy works at the Court of Common Pleas and also as a mental health first aid trainer. She sees people overdosing by her work at Broad and Arch all the time and wanted to learn to train her staff.
Rosado, of Prevention Point, spent an hour explaining the difference between heroin and fentanyl and ways to tell if someone has overdosed. Then he showed how to administer Narcan on a dummy.
The Department of Behavioral Health held four sessions last year for its own employees. This was the first of four sessions it’s holding in Center City for any member of the public to attend. Rosado stressed to attendees to tell their friends and colleagues about Narcan training and that Prevention Point would go anywhere to teach others.
Walker intends to set up a training for the staff she works with at the Health Federation
“Everybody,” she said, “is touched by this.”