One of the primary values that motivates us here at New Directions is the idea that everyone deserves a second chance at life. It’s the driving force between all our programs that aim to help people get on their feet, reclaim their lives, and move forward. But nowhere is the idea of second chances more real and more tangible than in the context of overdoses.
This is why we’re so proud of our Wake the Nation program. We fought hard for the widespread availability of the opioid overdose reversal drug called naloxone. By getting this life-saving drug in the hands of first responders and normal citizens alike, we’ve taken a concrete step in giving people another chance.
What is Naloxone and How Does It Work?
Opioid abuse has reached the level of nationwide epidemic in recent years, with overdoses and deaths from prescription opioids like Vicodin and illegal opioids like heroin alike both skyrocketing. Illinois has been hit particularly hard.
Often, when someone is found overdosing, it’s too late. Their body is shutting down and they’re losing the ability to breathe, and by the time paramedics arrive, there’s not much that can be done.
But naloxone can give these people a fighting chance. It blocks the effects of the opioids and puts the person into withdrawal within minutes, so the person can breathe again. This doesn’t make the overdose go away, as the person will need another dose in an hour, but it does buy time until paramedics can arrive and get the person to the hospital. And in the event of an overdose, every minute counts.
Some opioids that naloxone works for include:
It comes in two varieties. The first is an injection kit, which comes with two auto-injectors and a trainer device that lets you practice using it. The second is a nasal spray which is applied while the person is lying down, and requires no special training to use.
Getting Naloxone Into the Right Hands
But despite naloxone’s proven ability to save lives, it wasn’t widely available even to police officers, let alone the public. Critics claimed that having a way to stop overdoses would encourage drug use, despite there being no evidence to support this.
Wake the Nation was started to fight this opposition and get naloxone into the hands of law enforcement who often find overdose victims, as well as the public, so that anyone likely to come across an overdosing opioid user has the chance to save that life.
It started after the publicity around The Other Side, New Directions’s sober bar, reached Cassandra Wingert. Cassandra, now NDARS’s Director of Advocacy, had been working on this issue since a loved one passed away from an overdose, and saw the potential for cooperation.
Wake the Nation, the advocacy entity that Cassandra helped create, worked with a coalition of other organizations to get a Good Samaritan Law passed in Illinois that would legally protect anyone who helps someone who is overdosing.
They also worked to get naloxone distributed to police departments and pharmacies. Today, naloxone can be found in most police departments across the state, and is available over the counter at pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens.
So now Wake the Nation takes on a new role: training and education. We worked closely with the McHenry County Police Department to provide training for first-responders. We’ve also provided training and education sessions to the public.
We’re incredibly proud of the progress that Wake the Nation has made. Now, we hope to keep that momentum going, and focus on raising awareness of addiction, and of naloxone, in high schools and other public spaces.