Dozens turn out for ‘Chas­ing the Dragon’ screen­ing, Nar­can train­ing

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MATTHEW KUBISIAK mku­bisiak@somd­news.com

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY MATTHEW KUBISIAK

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.

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