In the wake of a tumultuous pandemic that has resulted in a shortage of healthcare resources, America is continuing to grapple with another devastating crisis: opioid overdose. The toll is staggering, with over a million lives lost to overdoses since 2000, the majority of which were opioid-related. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, opioids are far and away the leading cause of fatal overdoses in the U.S. — more than 1,500 people die per week.
Adding to the complex and staggering severity of this situation is the rise of synthetic drugs like fentanyl. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is involved in more deaths of Americans under 50 than any cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, and homicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to fentanyl as “a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine”
As a community-focused institution, Herzing University is joining with community leaders located near their 11 ground campuses to take proactive steps to provide viable solutions while aiming to reduce and prevent future outbreaks. As a healthcare-focused educator, Herzing is uniquely positioned to share critical knowledge, and real-world experiences, and deliver access to well-trained experts who can help others prepare to identify and assist with opioid overdose prevention when they encounter it.
The most vital and successful tool available to non-healthcare professionals is Naloxone. A medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, naloxone is available as both an injectable and a prepackaged nasal spray known as Narcan. Recently approved for over-the-counter use, Narcan can immediately prevent a possible overdose and be a lifesaver to thousands of people each year.
In 2023, Herzing University has and continues to host informative, comprehensive NARCAN trainings across the country. One such training was held at Herzing-New Orleans and in partnership with the New Orleans Health Department, as they work to train as many people in the surrounding community as possible, with more than 700 individuals trained in 2023, as of May.
We spoke to Dana Wilkosz, MPH, Community Outreach and Education Coordinator of the Opioid Survival Connection at the New Orleans Health Department. Dana shared her insights into the importance of NARCAN training in the Louisiana community and beyond.
Why is it important for people to be aware of NARCAN trainings and attend one in their community?
Wilkosz: Saving lives starts with knowledge and action. NARCAN training is crucial in the fight against opioid overdoses, as we have witnessed a disturbing rise in overdose cases and drug-related deaths. By attending these trainings, you can become familiar with the signs of an overdose and learn vital prevention techniques. Time is of the essence when someone is experiencing an overdose, and being equipped with the knowledge to respond swiftly can make all the difference.
What will people learn in their NARCAN trainings?
Wilkosz: Every training covers the foundation of NARCAN safety, administration and use. However, our trainings go beyond just the safety assurances by also providing valuable tips and real-life examples, fostering awareness and building confidence in potential lifesavers. Armed with this knowledge, you, and those you love, will become equipped to recognize the signs of an overdose and take immediate action, potentially saving lives.
What is the most important takeaway for those who attend the training?
Wilkosz: We want attendees to walk away with the understanding that NARCAN is safe to carry and administer. NARCAN will not harm someone who isn’t experiencing an overdose, which is all the more reason for people to feel comfortable and confident in using it, even if their suspicion of an overdose isn’t 100 percent. Confidence and proactiveness are key in situations that are truly life or death.
What are the most common misconceptions surrounding NARCAN use?
Wilkosz: Misconceptions surrounding NARCAN often revolve around the risk of casual exposure to fentanyl. Dispelling these myths is imperative for fostering a more educated and supportive environment. NARCAN has proven to be a safe intervention, and the risk of casual exposure is minimal.
To those who may be hesitant to act, I would say this: you never truly know how you will react until you're faced with a critical situation. NARCAN training aims to prepare everyone for that moment, providing the knowledge and confidence needed to save lives. Remember, every second counts, and acting could mean the difference between life and death.
How important is the FDA’s approval of NARCAN, the nasal spray version of naloxone, for over-the-counter use?
Wilkosz: This news marks a significant milestone in improving access, preparedness, and prevention. It acknowledges the urgency of the crisis we're facing and the need for safe and readily available tools. However, we must also consider the cost implications to ensure it remains accessible to those who need it most. I look forward to the increased interest and awareness that comes with this expanded accessibility.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned coming out of these trainings?
Wilkosz: I think that would be the profound gratitude people have for this information. The training is only 30 minutes, but participants walk away with a wealth of knowledge and an opportunity to assist people for the rest of their lives. Hearing stories of individuals putting this training to use reaffirms the critical need for these kinds of programs. It's heartening to discover just how valuable people find this training, and it fuels our department’s commitment to continue providing it.
Looking to learn more?
If you're interested in learning more about the NOLA Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHD) or wish to participate in these lifesaving trainings, connect with them through ready.nola.gov. For any questions or concerns about opioids, reach out to Dana Wilkosz at Dana.Wilkosz@nola.gov.
Upcoming NARCAN trainings can be located on the events pages of your local Herzing campus. Students, faculty, and community members are encouraged to connect directly with their local campus for information on regional partners available for trainings nearby.