First responders armed with Narcan curb heroin overdose deaths

Callie Kelly with Alcohol & Drug Services raffles off a lock box for securing mediation.

High Point continues to be buffeted by heroin overdoses, but thanks to more police officers, EMS personnel and family members having access to Naloxone, a drug that reverses overdoses, the number of deaths so far this year is zero.

When Jim Bronnert, president of Oakview Citizens Council, learned that one of his neighbors in the Chatham Wood Apartments complex had overdosed on heroin in the past couple weeks, he sprang into action, organizing a community meeting open to neighborhood associations across the city with a presenter from Alcohol Drug Services in Greensboro.

Located midway between the city’s affluent, northern suburbs and the leafy, old-money redoubt of Emerywood in the core city, Oakview is affordable yet comfortably situated between the city’s extremes of wealth and poverty.

Bronnert was surprised to learn from High Point police Officer Robert Burchette during the meeting he called on Monday evening that his community has been struck not once, but twice by heroin overdoses since the beginning of the year — one taking place inside an apartment and the other in the parking lot.

The heroin epidemic slammed into High Point in 2014, when the city recorded about 120 overdoses, 14 of which turned out to be fatal. Burchette noted that in 2015 the number dropped to 77 overdoses and six deaths. This year to date there have been 44 recorded overdoses — a number that compares unfavorably to the past year — yet there have been no deaths. Burchette attributed that to the fact that patrol officers, along with EMS personnel and family members of addicts have started carrying Naloxone, a drug marketed as Narcan that can reverse overdoses. He said police officers have reversed two overdoses by administering Naloxone.

“Sometimes you might draw inferences from a statistic that you shouldn’t,” Burchette said. “But I think you can say, being that Narcan has become much more readily available to family friends and people who are addicts, and to police officers, EMS — you gotta say there’s a correlation there. Zero deaths — that’s great, but the number of heroin overdoses are not down overall this year so far.”

Callie Kelly, a prevention consultant with Alcohol & Drug Services, emphasized to the group of 30 or so adults and teenagers at Oakview Recreation Center that heroin doesn’t discriminate by race or income, adding that the recent wave of addiction has grown out of prescription drug abuse. People addicted to opioid painkillers often switch to heroin because it’s far cheaper.

“Prescription drug abuse has been an epidemic for the last decade,” Kelly said. “If you can’t get your drug of choice, and there’s something cheaper and more accessible, what are you going to do? Get it. No one envisions themselves becoming an addict. It’s a process. It changes the way your brain operates.”

The places where people use heroin and overdose in High Point are strikingly commonplace. Burchette said 11 of the recorded overdoses this year have taken place in private residences, nine in parking lots, about a dozen in fast-food or convenience store bathrooms, and one even took place in a hospital parking lot.

“If you see cars in apartment complexes where you live, or it could be a Walmart parking lot or a church parking lot — you might see someone who looks like they’re sleeping or they’re slumped over,” Burchette said. “If you see somebody that’s been there awhile, call us. You could save a life.”

Kelly’s presentation covered both prevention and intervention.

Raffling off three lockboxes, Kelly encouraged people to secure prescription medications in their home.

“You can take those unused or expired medications and you can safely put them away,” she said. “So we encourage the public, we encourage adults to make sure they monitor, they secure and they dispose of the medications safely.”

The High Point and Greensboro police departments have drop boxes where people can dispose of unwanted medications. The Greensboro Police Department drop locations include 300 Swing Road and 1106 Maple St., which are open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Burchette said the drop box at High Point Police Department, located at 1009 Leonard St., is accessible 24/7 and people may dispose of medications anonymously.

Kelly said it’s important to help addicts get treatment so they won’t be forced to go back to using drugs, but she acknowledged that sometimes that’s easier said than done. One woman at the meeting said someone with an addiction turned to her for help, but there wasn’t a bed available at Caring Services, a treatment program in High Point. She was fortunate enough to help the person land a spot at Malachi House in Greensboro, but only because of a personal connection.

“If people need immediate medical care then obviously you would take them to the ER,” Kelly said, “but as a place or an agency to get treatment, there are challenges to that. I wish I could speak further on that. I apologize that I can’t.”

Clay Fielding, a member of Greater First United Baptist Church, said he plans to take Kelly’s recommendations back to his fellow parishioners.

“We have a number of seniors that are using prescription medications and other medications,” he said. “The lockbox is important because of the number of older folks who have these pills, and they have grandchildren and younger children that you don’t want them to have access,” Fielding said. “Prevention is much better than having to deal with the problem.”

Bronnert said he might consider getting members of his neighborhood association trained to administer Naloxone.

Kelly urged the teenagers at the meeting to refrain from using prescription pills to get high.

“This month alone I’ve had 12 high school students tell me someone asked them to try Xanax or Vicodin,” she said. “Parents, it’s not going to be a stranger; it’s going to be a friend, maybe their best friend.”

She concluded by telling the teenagers: “You’re smarter than that. Addiction begins with the first use.”