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Naloxone trainings up as opioid fatalities rise

WBFO's Mike Desmond

On a cold, windy and snowy night, around two dozen people were inside the Erie County Emergency Operations Center talking about giving life, using naloxone to overcome the fatal overdose effects of opioids. As fatalities have continued to rise, the number of people wanting to learn how to use the drug spray also has increased. 

The county Health Department has trained 8,000 people on how to use the nasal spray to bring back people from the edge of death. While naloxone has long been used in hospital emergency rooms, the opioid fatality epidemic has led to small, portable doses people can have immediately available, even before first responders arrive.

Willie Chillis was at the training because of the work he does.

"Case manager, Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition," he said. "I am a manager for 101 veterans and I have some that have medical and mental health problems, along with substance abuse and I'm here to prevent anybody from dying."

Chillis says he has not lost anyone yet and does not want to. However, Sarah Sutcliff has seen people die.

"I live in Kaisertown and in the last year-and-a-half, I've seen three younger, like 20, 30-year-old white males down on the ground," she said. "We're having quite a bit of problems in my community and the most recent was actually the evening of New Year's Day."

Almost all police and fire departments in Erie County provide naloxone for officers and firefighters to use against the spiral into death of an overdose. Buffalo Police Captain Patrick Mann says officers are using naloxone a lot.

"In 2015, we used about 250 Narcan kits and in 2016, I don't have the exact number, but I think it was around 450 kits," he said. "That's just the Police Department. That's not the Fire Department. The Fire Department has used probably double what we have."

It is a hard push, as the county Health Department which sponsored Wednesday's training estimates 357 people died of overdoses in 2016, up from 256 in 2015.

Frank Scarpinato is an environmental compliance specialist with the Health Department. Scarpinato says a lot of people know the value of the drug to someone.

"Whether it's a loved one or a neighbor, a co-worker and, I can tell you, every law enforcement officer that has had to use this product to save someone's life has an incredible change in not only attitude but how they feel about using this product because they know they saved someone's life," he said.

There are other agencies performing similar training, with Buffalo Police estimating training 15,000.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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