Dozens turn out for ‘Chasing the Dragon’ screening, Narcan training
Residents shuffled into the auditorium of the Charles County Government building last Wednesday evening — not for a town hall or commissioners meeting, but a screening of “Chasing the Dragon,” an FBI-produced documentary that sheds light on the damaging effects of opioid abuse.
In an introduction to the film, FBI Special Agent Shane Dana spoke of his 13 years as a street agent
working on opioid-related cases. “Chasing the Dragon,” originally premiering in early 2016, was the result of filming unscripted interviews with seven different people Dana had known from these cases.
“These seven stories are the same stories I saw hundreds and hundreds of times,” Dana said. “This is not sensational — this is reality.”
Dana described seeing many tragedies unfold, each with similarities in their beginnings. As the film started and the stories were introduced, it became clear that the factor present in each of the film’s seven tales was each heroin user’s start with prescription opiates. Many people first become addicted to opioids when taking prescribed painkillers, then move on to heroin due to its cheaper cost and relatively easy availability, according to statistics referenced in the film.
With a runtime under an hour, “Chasing the Dragon” does not focus too long on any one person’s story. It jumps back and forth between subjects who have lost so much to opioid abuse: their careers, their freedom, their loved ones to overdoses.
Though stories in the real-life “Chasing the Dragon” may seem overwhelmingly disheartening, the film ends on a more positive note. A young man whose girlfriend died of an overdose is now in recovery, a young woman who was imprisoned is now getting a second chance at freedom and a grieving mother who lost her daughter to heroin is now spreading a message of prevention and recovery.
Lt. Bobby Kiesel with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office spoke after the film, describing the emergence of opioids in the county.
A decade ago, heroin was a problem local law enforcement rarely had to deal with, he said. Then, several years ago when they started noticing more and more prescription painkillers being abused, they “knew what was coming next.”
In the last 18 months, Kiesel said there have been 51 opiate overdose deaths in Charles County. Just in 2017 so far, the sheriff’s office has administered the overdose reversal drug naloxone 46 times. All 46 of these overdose victims were successfully revived, Kiesel said. This year also saw the first reported overdose death attributed to carfentanil, an opioid far more potent than heroin that is sometimes cut into regular heroin.
Chief John Filer of Charles County EMS followed up, stating all parts of Charles County have been impacted by the opioid crisis and that Charles County EMS administers Narcan, a brand name for naloxone, approximately once a day.
According to Filer, Charles County EMS spent around $10,000 on Narcan in all of 2010. In just 2017 so far, they have spent approximately $40,000 on Narcan.
“We don’t treat overdoses like a medical emergency in Maryland,” Filer said, referring to the legal ability of overdose victims who wake up to refuse additional treatment. Because of this, he says EMS will often see the same overdose victims over and over again.
For overdose survivors who are sent to the emergency room, the short period of time spent in the ER can be vital, said Dr. Richard Ferraro of University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center in La Plata. Health officials around the state are ramping up services, trying to have resources like crisis intervention teams available to opioid users who want help.
Dr. Dianna Abney with the Charles County Department of Health went over some of the local resources offered to opioid users and their families, including group counseling, support groups, intensive outpatient treatment, prevention programs and naloxone training classes.
Members of the audience who signed up were then given naloxone training right then and there.
“Opiate death is a respiratory death,” Abney said, presenting a slideshow with information on how the body responds to an overdose. Opiates suppress breathing, and if the brain has absorbed too much of an opioid, the victim can suffocate.
Abney explained how naloxone works to block receptors in the brain that respond to opiates, thus preventing complete respiratory shutdown.
At the end of the training, participants were given a kit with Narcan, a brand of nasally administered naloxone. Using a small, preloaded plastic device, the person administering Narcan pumps a dose of the drug directly into the overdose victim’s nostril.
Typically, the victim will respond to the Narcan within minutes, Abney explained. For overdoses from more potent opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, Narcan may need to be administered multiple times for positive results, if it is even effective at all.
Health officials say to call 911 for any suspected overdose, regardless of if Narcan is administered successfully. In fact, Abney urged the audience to call 911 as their first step upon discovering any overdose. Maryland has a “good Samaritan law” that protects people who call for help in overdose situations from prosecution, even if they are in possession of narcotics.
Dozens of people left the government building that night with Narcan kits in hand, all now trained in administering aid that could be the difference between life and death for someone experiencing an overdose.
To learn more about resources available in Maryland in the fight against the opioid epidemic, go to BeforeItsTooLateMD.org.
Sara Haina and Dr. James Bridgers, both with the Charles County Department of Health, distribute Narcan kits to participants in the Narcan training that followed the screening of “Chasing the Dragon” at the Charles County government building on June 22.