Amid a spike in Spokane drug overdoses in recent years, the Spokane Regional Health District spent Thursday afternoon distributing Narcan in a park and teaching members of the public to administer it properly.
Part of International Opioid Awareness Day, the SRHD was one of a dozen organizations at Mission Park providing public education on drug overdoses and how they can be treated or prevented. The event was organized by Ideal Option, an outpatient treatment facility using medications to treat drug addiction.
“We need to bring awareness to this epidemic we’re facing and bring prevention. We want people to know anyone can be affected by overdose and you need to be prepared,” said event organizer Carlo Menivar – pointing to the need for average people to be aware of the signs of overdose and be comfortable with administering Narcan if it would save someone’s life.
Narcan is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose and brings back normal breathing. The drug is typically administered through a nasal spray but can also be injected.
“No one thinks its going to happen in their family. But what happens when you walk in on a friend who has overdosed? What do you do? Are you prepared?” Menivar said.
The Spokane Regional Health District provided information and gave out Narcan to the public at the event.
SRHD Health Officer Dr. Frank Velázquez said Narcan should be “part of the toolkit” and included in first aid for individuals. Someone coming upon an individual experiencing an overdose should call 911, then administer nasal-spray Narcan “if they can,” Velazquez said. If the individual has not responded within three minutes, another dose can be administered.
Washington state has a “good samaritan” law allowing regular citizens to administer Narcan without any legal liability.
“The faster they get Narcan, the better chance they have. You could save a life,” Velázquez said.
Washington state has the fifth-highest rate of overdose of any substance in the nation, Veláazquez added. Spokane itself saw a 38% increase in drug overdoses from 2021 to 2022.
“Spokane is one of those areas in which we’ve seen a significant increase in not only overdoses but also substance abuse. And as a community, we need to come together and make sure that we address that, because no single individual agency is going to be able to address that,” he said. “Overdose is not limited to a specific population. Anyone, anywhere, any age, any socioeconomic status can have an overdose.”
Much of that increase has come with the prevalence of fentanyl in the community, Velázquez added. Spokane was recently listed as one of the foremost hubs for fentanyl.
The SRHD has approximately 70 staff focused on helping patients recover from drugs and alcohol.
“These are patients that are being provided a very holistic approach, meaning we do counseling, we try to connect patients with services that they may need,” he said.
Approximately 1,000 to 1,500 Spokanites participate in that SRHD treatment each year.
“That, for many, is the first step to realign their lives back to more normal,” Velázquez said.