By the time the Indiana Recovery Alliance had finished naloxone administration and distribution training Monday night, about six people in America had already overdosed on drugs, director Chris Abert said.
The training, which took place in a conference room on the ground floor of the Monroe County Public Library, taught more than 30 members of the Bloomington community how to identify an opioid overdose and temporarily treat it with the life-saving naloxone drug.
“If people are educated and empowered, they take care of themselves,” Abert said. “When people are pushed into the shadows, they do shadowy things.”
The IRA’s resources are limited, so it relies on community members to come learn about naloxone so they can educate others and save lives, Abert said. About four of its sessions each year are geared toward teaching people how to administer the antidote, and other days are scheduled just for creating and distributing naloxone kits.
For Abert, the stigma around the opioid epidemic is harmful to reversing the problem. The IRA knows some people can’t obtain abstinence, so it focuses on a strategy of harm reduction rather than shame to try to offset a lack of treatment.
“It’s really important to put aside our hysteria and moral panic and engage with evidence-based strategies,” Abert said.
During Abert’s education session, Ivy Tech addiction studies sophomore Carissa Knight sat in the middle of the front row.
The 25-year-old listened to Abert intently. Her blue Bic pen hardly left her hand during the session, even when she wasn’t actively taking notes on her naloxone certification practice test.
Naloxone, syringes and an orange lay on the table to her left. Later in the night, it would be used to simulate injecting naloxone into a human.
The practice would have come in handy for Knight about four years ago. Before she knew how to prevent an opioid overdose, her brother died from from one when he was 21.
“I had no idea what to do, so it’s awesome they provide this,” she said.
Like Abert, she said she thinks it’s better that the IRA’s model is harm reduction. To her, the needle-exchange method is better than jail time for keeping both drug users and other community members safe.
“It helps the community more than shaming the people that have abused drugs,” Knight said.
Knight always knew she wanted to use her life to help people, but she didn’t know how until her brother’s overdose, she said. Now, as an addiction studies student, she is involved with IRA and Bloomington high school programs that might have helped her prevent that outcome.
Knight said her 9-year-old adopted son likes to come and help out when the IRA assembles naloxone kits. Although his biological mother is still in his life, she is a drug user. Volunteering helps teach him more about the situation.
"In that way, it's not so scary," Knight said. "I guess he's always wanted to do something to help, and that way, he feels like it is."
Before the class took their final tests, Abert instructed them to open their syringes, fill them with the naloxone and inject.
While the students around her chatted and asked questions, Knight, who has already been trained to administer naloxone, set to work. Seconds later, as she pierced the orange with the needle, she smiled.
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