Risks taken, lives saved: Narcan after 5 months

Cary Quashen, founder of Action Family Counseling, demonstrates the assembly of a Narcan pack, which is administered via an oral spray to a patient who has overdosed on heroin or any other opiate-based narcotic. Representative Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, said he has joined a congressional bipartisan task force to craft legislation to fight heroin addiction. Ryan Painter/The Signal.

A Santa Clarita Valley mother walks into her son’s bedroom, finds him blue, unconscious and — by all appearances — dead. But, she grabs the “miracle drug” Narcan, gives it to her son and the boy comes to life.

Deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station respond to reports of a man found apparently dead — unconscious and unresponsive — in a car, the victim of an overdose, find him, give him Narcan they now carry with them and he comes back to life.

These are just two of the cases related by officials on the front line of reviving drug overdose victims with a drug called Narcan.

In June, a phalanx of civic leaders gathered on the doorstep of the SCV Sheriff’s Station to unveil the drug that save the lives of addicts.

Among them was Dr. Darrin Privett of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital who referred to naloxone (Narcan) as an “opioid antagonist” which he said “competes with opioids in the body, making that opioid ineffective.”

To date, the plan has worked and lives have been saved.

But, there’s something else.

Now that the “miracle drug” is mainstream and readily available, the perception is beginning to shift, according to one frontline addiction worker who spoke at the grand unveiling in June.

“A lot of heroin addicts now have Narcan. So, they tell their buddies, ‘If I die just zap me back to life with this.’ But, you have to remember, you’re dealing with heroin addicts,” said Cary Quashen, Henry Mayo Executive Director of Behavioral Health and Director of Action Family Counseling.

“Everyone is in a really awkward position right now,” he said.

Cary Quashen of Action Family Counseling poses with a Narcan kit inside the rehab organization’s Soledad Canyon Rd. office on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2107. Quashen’s staff keeps numerous kits on hand in the event of an opiate overdose. Ryan Painter/The Signal.

Miracle drug

Quashen, who was among the civic leaders in June who helped unveil the plan use Narcan, recently talked to the mother who told him how she saved her son’s life.

“She found him blue and stiff,” he said.  “Fortunately, she had some Narcan. It actually brought him back to life.

“We know it’s a miracle drug,” he said. “It turns people who are dying into alive individuals.”

But, there’s a problem with that, Quashen said: “It gives the addict a false sense of security… They say ‘I know I’m playing Russian roulette.  I know it’s cut with Fentanyl. But, I feel a whole lot safer.  I have my Narcan now,’” he said.

“If she didn’t have the Narcan when she walked into his room,” Quashen said, about the mother. “He was dead and he wasn’t even breathing.”

Quashen quickly returned the age-old cautionary note, this time about Narcan: “If you play with matches you’re going to get burned.”

In the meantime, however, the bottom line is that lives are being saved just as sheriff’s officials, elected members of City of Santa Clarita city council, and physicians had foretold back in June.

“It was on December 4 around 8 pm at night,” Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the SCV Sheriff’s Station told The Signal Monday.

“Deputies responded to a ‘rescue call’ at a shopping center parking lot on the 27600 block of Bouquet Canyon Road. A 27-year-old man apparently had overdosed on Fentanyl.

“When Deputy Michael Miller arrived on scene, the man was unconscious and unresponsive. Miller said he administered the second dose of Narcan, the man was revived and started talking to them.

“He was transported to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital,” Shirley Miller said.

April overdoses

The story of rescue and life-saving stands in stark contrast to the rash of overdose deaths and near-deaths reported earlier this year, before deputies were outfitted with Narcan.

In July, each of the 240 sworn personnel at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station was expected to be trained in the use of and equipped with the anti-overdose drug naloxone, referred to by its brand name, Narcan, a nasal spray kit.

At the grand unveiling of the drug in June, Los Angeles Sheriff Department Commander Judy Gerhardt, who came up with the Narcan program after her 23-year-old nephew died of an overdose, said: “The opioid epidemic has devastated communities across the country, and we don’t want it to happen here.

It was the hope of LASD officials to distribute Narcan to every deputy across the county – beginning with deputies in the SCV.

The Santa Clarita Valley was moved to the top of the program’s list in light of a spate of overdose cases witnessed here in April. During a 72-hour period, eight overdose patients turned up at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, and one of them died.

“The issue of heroin is a nationwide problem and not one unique to the Santa Clarita Valley,” then-Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth told a cluster of reporters gathered outside the Sheriff’s Station earlier this year.

“Santa Clarita is a community that isn’t immune to the issue of heroin addiction but what makes us unique is the way we’re going to tackle it,” Smyth said, calling the united front a “holistic” approach and the best approach.

For those like Quashen, on the front lines of battling drug addiction, the drug presents “so many possibilities,” he said.

“In many ways it is a miracle drug,” he said. “I just fear it’s a prescription for destruction.”

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