First responders routinely use naloxone to reverse narcotics overdoses, but the simple, life-saving process is a mystery to most people.
So staff at La Red Health Center in Georgetown, Delaware now train members of the public how to use naloxone as they share it at community events.
Delaware’s Sussex County, where La Red is based, has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic, and reported 117 overdose deaths last year, up 24 percent from the previous year. Delaware has the fifth highest rate of overdoses among the 50 states.
“We have higher rates of fatalities – which is extremely concerning – compared to the rest of the country,” said Rachel Hersh, deputy director at La Red.
The center gives out kits at community events and teaches people how to use naloxone, which works by reversing the effects of opioids on the brain and restoring breathing. Hersh said the center teaches a three-step process: “Administer, step back, call 911.”
She said the stepping back part is an important safety measure because naloxone can jolt someone into consciousness, and sometimes the experience makes them “angry as a bear.”
Many of La Red’s patients live in rural areas and work in agriculture. The center got its start when Carmelite nuns launched a 24/7 call line to help Spanish-speaking residents connect with medical providers, an effort that evolved into a full-blown health center. La Red means “network” in Spanish.
Today about 60 percent of patients are not expert in English. Most speak Spanish, but there is a growing number who speak Haitian Creole as well. Consequently, La Red’s outreach efforts include billboards in Spanish and Haitian, as well as spot commercials on local Spanish language radio stations.
The center works with other non-profits in these efforts, Hersh said. For example, La Red recently offered naloxone training as part of a local Women’s Health Walk, teaming up with organizations ranging from the YWCA to the Food Bank of Delaware. “We like to partner with community agencies,” Hersh said.