Imagine that you are a first aider – a fireman or a paramedic. You get a call that a man needs help and you run to the scene with a booming siren. You are pretty sure what you will find when you get there, and unfortunately you are not wrong. It is a young man, distraught and poorly dressed, passed out from an opioid overdose.
There are far too many of these overdoses in your city. Sometimes you can save them and sometimes it's too late because your body is already cooling down when you arrive. For those who are still alive, you will hit them with a dose of naloxone, the opioid antidote, to try to get them around.
They may respond in one dose, and if they have taken fentanyl it may take three or four doses or even more because fentanyl is so strong. But this time the man starts breathing more normally and opens his eyes after a dose of the antidote. He will live this time.
Now you breathe a sigh of relief. This relief is a little tarnished because you are sure that you only revived this guy a few days earlier.
Sometimes you feel hopeless about this carousel of overdoses and rescues, but what can you do? You have to save life from yourself.
Did you know that there are many people who would disagree with you?
Measuring Public Response to Saving These Lives
I once posted an article on social media to revive those who overdosed, and I was shocked by many of the comments I received on this post. About half of the people advocated saving the life of a person who overdosed, and the other half was violently opposed. "They made their choice by using drugs and should be allowed to die," said one person. Out of about a hundred comments, about half advocated resuscitation and the other half opposed it. Many were angry and decided against it. I was shocked by the anger and violence of their feelings.
I understand the frustration, but still these are people. People who can regain their sobriety if they stay alive and help find rehab programs.
An Ohio man returns to thank those who saved him.
In Fairborn, Ohio, Richard Matteoli seemed to understand how frustrating it was for the firefighters who kept saving him from overdoses. He had to be given naloxone at least five times to save his life. After each rescue, he returned to heroin use. Eventually, its 6-foot, 2-inch frame was reduced to just 121 pounds.
In 2017 he visited the fire station that saved him to express his thanks. At that point Richard had been recovering for 530 days. His skin was healthy and his eyes were bright. He brought photos that showed what he looked like when he was deeply addicted. The pictures showed a gaunt, hollow and hopeless man.
Now he is married and again a good father for his son. He has rebuilt his relationship with his mother and is working with the attorney general to resolve the opioid crisis.
This can happen when a life is saved.
A Narconon graduate agrees
I spoke to a Narconon graduate who had seen some bailouts like Richard's. She had started using marijuana like so many other young people, but had switched to opioids and methamphetamine when she fell in love with a drug-dealing friend.
She underwent numerous rehabilitation programs, but was unable to maintain her sobriety after these programs. She had a close call or two while using heroin, almost overdosing, but recovering on her own each time.
The day finally came when she needed someone to save her. She was in a car with her boyfriend when she passed out and he couldn't revive her. Fortunately, the first aiders were quickly on site. At that point, however, she was so far away that the rescue workers had to work a full half hour before being resuscitated. She was amazed, she said, because EMTs sometimes don't take as much time and effort for someone who is "only heroin addicted". In her case, they refused to give up until she was brought back to life.
It was still not enough to convince her that she had to take her recovery seriously. "You just don't think clearly when you're addicted," she said. She continued to use heroin and methamphetamine, one to calm her and the other to stimulate her.
Another overdose, another rescue and she finally knew that she had to face what was going on in her life. This time her family found Narconon Suncoast in Florida. And this time she found the help she really needed to get sober and stay sober.
"If they hadn't saved me, I couldn't have been sober. I wouldn't have had another chance in life. I want to thank them."
I asked her what she wanted to say to the EMTs who revived them every time. Tears came to her eyes and she paused for a long moment. "If they hadn't saved me, I couldn't have been sober. I wouldn't have had another chance in life. I want to thank them."
At that very moment I wished that all people who thought the addicts should die, see their faces, hear their voices and testify their gratitude. It could have been the lesson they needed to see that saving the life of an overdosed person gives that person the chance to recover and become a good father, mother, or citizen .
Yes, it is frustrating and expensive. Yes, drug addiction needs to be addressed and treated on many fronts, apart from reviving only one person who has overdosed. This is just first aid. Real help comes in the form of a drug rehabilitation program that really works and enables a person to rebuild a productive and comfortable life.
Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP