Editor’s note: Maureen Bole, a recovering addict now three years clean, is sharing her experiences as part of the “Exposing the Opioid Epidemic” yearlong series in this newspaper. This is her latest installment.
Around this time last year, I had a group of super-close friends. We hung out every weekend, went to recovery support meetings together, even shared our locations with each other at all times on our iPhones. Everything was great ... until one of my friends started using again.
We were all concerned about him overdosing, getting hurt or hurting someone else. He had used recently in the months prior and had fallen out (overdosed) a couple times already. There was one night in particular though, that one of my other friends and I were extremely troubled with his behavior.
We watched on our phones as his location went from the West Side, to East Cleveland, then back to the suburbs, then shut off just to come back on and do it all over again two more times. We were terrified he was going to kill himself - or someone else by driving. We tracked his location to a street in Brooklyn, found his car and planned to wait behind it until he came out of whatever house he was in to drive him home.
We waited more than an hour. He wasn’t answering our calls or texts, which was freaking us out because no matter how high he got, he always answered eventually. My friend decided to walk down the street to see if we could hear anything. As she walked past his car, she jerked back around and yelled to me, “He’s in the car.”
I immediately jumped out of my car and ran to his. He was slumped over in the driver's seat. We couldn’t tell if he was breathing. The car doors were locked. We banged on the window frantically, trying to wake him up. Nothing. Panic mode set in as I called 911 to request an ambulance. Just as I finally got a hold of a dispatcher, my friend swiftly hit the window one last time and he woke up. “Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.”
We got him out of the car and he struggled to stand. He couldn’t hear us. We just all hugged each other so relieved he was alive and OK. Or so we thought.
When I started to drive him home, I knew something wasn’t right. He was throwing up, he couldn’t hold his head up and kept telling me he couldn’t hear right. We decided to take him to the ER.
We stayed in the hospital until 6 in the morning. He was given four doses of Narcan to prevent him from continuing to overdose. His oxygen levels took hours to return to normal. He was a mess, but he was alive. The entire night was traumatic for us all. But the disease of addiction is insidious, and he was using again in less than 48 hours.
That’s the beauty and the curse of Naloxone/Narcan right there. We have this life-saving medication so readily available to us, but many people question it. What’s the point if they’re just going to go out and do it again? Why should we treat “repeat offenders” who overdose and have EMS called multiple times a week or even multiple times a day? Is death even a consequence for addict anymore?
I can forgive people who don’t know much about the disease of addiction or this epidemic. But for those who do and who ask those questions; why do you think you get to play God? Why should we pick and choose who gets to live and who gets to die? Why would you deny a life saving intervention to someone?
I recently heard someone compare Narcan to crutches. That we use crutches until we are healed and it’s no different with Narcan. Narcan is available to give addicts another day, another chance. Some may argue, “Well people who shoot heroin choose to do that. People who break an ankle don’t choose that.” Yes and no.
The thing about addiction is that after a certain point, using is no longer a choice. It feels like a basic human need, the way that food and water are to normal people. Narcan was invented to help addicts stay alive until they can seek proper help. Recent studies have shown that Narcan programs are driving more addicts to seek treatment, rather than enabling them to keep flirting with death. Which is why, for better or worse, Narcan is a godsend.
Everyone should be educated on Narcan and how to react in a situation where someone is overdosing. Everyone should carry it. It can do no harm, only good. It could change your life but most importantly, it can save someone else’s.