FAIRFIELD, Conn. – A Norwalk woman said her son might still be alive today if first responders were allowed to carry and use Narcan, which prevents drug overdoses, she said during a recent roundtable discussion at the Fairfield Public Library on the heroin problem.
In 1996, Norwalk resident Ginger Katz lost her 20-year-old-son, Ian, to a heroin overdose in their home. The loss prompted her and her husband to found The Courage To Speak, a nonprofit foundation.
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” said Katz, who now goes around the state giving talks about the growing problem of heroin addiction.
More than 250 people in Connecticut died from heroin-related overdoses in 2013, up from 174 in 2012, according to the state’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office.
According to Fairfield Police Lt. Michael Gagner, the use of heroin and opiates is growing across the entire United States. Most people now using heroin originally got hooked on prescription medications found in their homes, Gagner said.
That is one of the reasons, Kevin Coyner, a Democratic candidate for the 132nd State Representative seat, and other lawmakers from around the area have worked to get the drug Narcan, or Naloxene, in the hands of all first responders.
“I am thrilled to provide the tools for our first responders to save more lives and prevent the last tragedy of deaths from the rising epidemic of heroin/opiate abuse in our communities,” said state Rep. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield).
Fairfield County lawmakers worked with the state Commissioner of Public Health to change a state statue to allow not just paramedics to carry Narcan but also police officers and firefighters.
Narcan works in a way similar to an EpiPen, injecting the medication into the victim's system. It acts like a reversing agent for a person overdosing on a drug and helps the victim start breathing on his or her own. If carried by first responders, it could be administered in the field to people who appear to be overdosing, experts say.
“It’s an evidence-based treatment,” said Shawn Lang, director of public policy at AIDS Connecticut. “Nobody thinks twice about using an EpiPen.”
Coyner, a firefighter with the Greenwich Fire Department, said he has seen first-hand how having access to the drug can save lives.
“In Fairfield, I know that there are plans to put Narcan in the hands of first responders. But it is not a requirement,” Coyner said. “It’s up to each individual municipality to decide to carry it and to train their personnel.”
For first responders and lawmakers, making Narcan available to those who can help in the field is a tremendous relief and can give families and addicts a second chance, he said.