How to rescue loved ones from a deadly opioid overdose

A rash of opioid overdoses in area schools, including a recent death at an Arlington, Virginia, high school, have parents concerned. So how can you protect your kids and loved ones from dying when an overdose does happen?

“Nobody thinks that this is going to happen to them,” said Ginny Lovitt Atwood, executive director for The Chris Atwood Foundation in Northern Virginia. “My family had no reason to think that this would ever happen to us.”

Lovitt Atwood started the organization 10 years ago after the overdose death of her younger brother.

“I came home and found him unresponsive and was not able to save him,” Lovitt Atwood told WTOP.

The main goal of the foundation is to equip people with the knowledge and the tools to prevent overdose deaths. They also support overdose victims with recovery through various trainings.

In the case of an opioid overdose, one of the best emergency treatments you can get a hold of is naloxone, also known as Narcan. It is designed as an opioid antagonist, which means it can reverse and block the effects of other opioids in the victim’s body.

The NIH says Narcan “should be given to any person who shows signs of an opioid overdose or when an overdose is suspected.”

“It’s a very safe, very effective medication,” said Lovitt Atwood. “You can’t overdose on it. It’s not addictive, you can use it on adults and kids. It’s safer than Tylenol.”

“You can actually have somebody go from laying on the ground, not breathing, to up and walking and talking in less than a minute,” she added.

Lovitt Atwood said the drug, which comes in the form of a nasal spray, is available at all pharmacies. She even carries it in her purse in case it is needed by a bystander.

She said, if you have Narcan, responding to an overdose situation is simple.

First, you want to administer CPR — two rescue breaths — because the main cause of death in opioid overdoses is usually lack of oxygen. Then administer the Narcan.

Keep giving rescue breaths until the Narcan kicks in, which should be pretty quickly. But, if it hasn’t taken effect within a few minutes, give another dose.

However, if you are in an overdose situation where you don’t have Naloxone, you may be able to save the victim’s life by administering rescue breaths until emergency responders arrive.

“You can keep somebody alive just by breathing for them,” said Lovitt Atwood.

“It’s really just a responsible community member thing to do to have Narcan and know how to use it,” she continued.

The Chris Atwood Foundation also works in harm reduction for active drug users by providing fentanyl testing kits. Those kits detect the presence of the highly potent and deadly opioid fentanyl, which has been found laced in other drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, etc.), unbeknownst to users. Deadly overdoses due to fentanyl spiking has increased dramatically over the last few years.

The foundation also helps addicts find a path to recovery through peer support.

If a loved one, especially a young person, is dealing with an addiction to opioids — or any other hard drug — it is important to understand why.  

“Trauma is also a big pathway into addiction. So make sure that you’re addressing any kind of mental health or trauma with your kids,” said Lovitt Atwood. “I think that’s really what most kids want. They want to feel normal, and they want to enjoy their life. They find that a drug can kind of help them do that.”

When they do seek recovery, it is best to support them without judgment.

“When people feel loved and accepted, they are so much more likely to make positive choices for themselves,” she said.

“If they feel judged, and shunned, and stigmatized, which most people with addiction do, they are a lot less likely to get the help that they need.” 

If you are interested in Narcan training, or other programs to address opioid abuse, you can reach The Chris Atwood Foundation at their website, or call them at 703-662-6076 to speak with a certified peer support specialist.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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