EL effort looks to reverse likelihood of ODs
EAST LIVERPOOL — Two overdose deaths last weekend rocked the city’s core. A city effort believes that a little education could have save those lives.
City police responded at 8:11 p.m. Feb. 20 to the 600 block of Oak Street to a report of two deceased people. Both were overdose victims, authorities said.
Mitzi Stoddard, who is a harm reduction coordinator with River Valley Organizing, said the tragedy could have been avoided. The organization, which also has a location in Portsmouth, carries not only naloxone in both the injectable and the nasal form to reverse overdoses in opiate addicts but also strips that addicts can use to test their drugs for the presence of fentanyl.
A synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain particularly among advanced cancer sufferers, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Illegally-made fentanyl is often mixed with heroin and cocaine as a combination product — often without the user’s knowledge to increase its euphoric effects.
Over 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2019. That number has only increased during the COVID pandemic, according to the CDC.
Through donations, River Valley Organizing and Stoddard’s Street Guardians’ effort carry Narcan (the generic equivalent is naloxone) 24×7 to save lives. She admits that the nasal antidote is the preferred choice, as a stigma surrounds syringes.
However, as organization executive director Amanda Kiger said, although the nasal is more dependent on a cooperative recipient it does not act as quickly as the injectable does. The injectable also can be given through pieces of clothing into arm or leg if need be. The nasal, which is Narcan brand, also carries a higher price tag (two for $35) for organizers in comparison to the generic injectable ($2).
Since the Street Guardians emerged in January, Stoddard said they have reversed 11 overdoses in the past six weeks. “People are scared to call the police (for assistance), and I got sick of burying my friends,” she said, adding that they noticed the spike in the ODs late in January due to increased need for stock. “I am surprised how normal this has become. (These days), people don’t even flinch.”
Kiger explained that the River Valley Organizing effort began in Portsmouth, which was Ground Zero of the epidemic in the early 2000s. “East Liverpool is the other bookend,” she explains. “Opiates hit the center of the brain, and people just cannot get over the biological yearning for the drug.”
In Portsmouth, River Valley Organizing also runs a replacement syringe program for addicts, which Kiger believes is something needed up here in East Liverpool. “We have seen significant drops in HIV and hepatitis (infection) as well as abscesses since starting the program in Portsmouth.”
The East Liverpool effort does have the test strips available to addicts to test their drugs for the presence of fentanyl, though.
Stoddard reminds, “Drug use doesn’t discriminate. Right now, we view treatment and recovery as 100 percent abstinence. The harm reduction approach is meeting people at where they at and allowing them to choose a better (and less harmful) option.”
The naloxone kits and fentanyl test strips are available at the River Valley Organizing office, which is located at 506 Walnut St. in downtown East Liverpool. Hours are 12 noon to 9 p.m. weekdays and 12 noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. There also is a phone number posted on the door for emergency response.
Kiger explained that this is just one role that the organization plays, representing the often unheard and disenfranchised segment of the public. “We talk to the people who no one is talking to and empower each other,” she said.
Through their distribution of naloxone, River Valley Organizers estimate that they have saved 33 lives just the first two months of 2021. “More than 37 percent of the kits handed out have reversed overdoses and saved lives, because they had the naloxone on hand,” Kiger concluded.