Hi. My name is Betsy Tant. My teenage nephew Henry died from an opiate overdose.henry-in-red

He was a beautiful boy who loved and was loved by so many. Henry was incredibly intelligent. He loved to read and discuss history and philosophy. He was kind and compassionate and was often overwhelmed by the cruelty in the world. He was a talented guitarist and found solace in his music. Henry adored his family and was a loyal friend and took people at their word. When he was deep in his addiction and very vulnerable, he ended up trusting the wrong people. They said that they would help him get clean and reclaim his life. Instead they sucked him into their world of dealing.

Within a week of meeting them Henry ended up at their trailer with a head injury. Instead of calling for help they gave him more and more drugs until he was unconscious. They put him in a bedroom and left him there unconscious and choking on his own vomit. Hours later they realized that he was going to die and instead of calling an ambulance they called the last person Henry had called and told her to come get him. She told them to call an ambulance and she called the police. It was too late to give him naloxone and reverse the effects of the drugs. The damage to his brain from the time he was in their home dying was too extensive. These people were afraid of getting in trouble so instead they let him lay there dying. If they had just called for help in the beginning he could have been saved.

He died in his parents’ arms.

If they had just called for help, he might be in college now. If they had just called for help, Henry might be happy and healthy and helping others find their way to recovery. If they had just called for help, his brother and sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would not spend each day of the rest of their life with a piece of their heart missing.

Many people ask me if saving people from overdose makes any real difference. The answer is yes. Most people in active addiction are not afraid of overdosing but there is data that tells us that surviving an overdose has an impact. At least a quarter of overdose survivors seek treatment within 30 days. There are many who overdose many times before finally starting a life in recovery. Many of these people end up on the front lines, teaching overdose prevention education.

Most people are not alone when they overdose. This means that a majority of overdose deaths could have been prevented if someone had just gotten naloxone in their system within 2-3 hours. Naloxone is a miracle drug. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making it legal for people get and administer naloxone. Many of those states also have Good Samaritan laws giving immunity from possession charges to people who call for help. Most ambulances have naloxone ready to use if given the chance.

So why are overdose death rates still so high? It’s simple- very few people know about naloxone. Despite the new laws making it legal to access there is very little being done to educate the public and doctors about them.

Next month I will be heading to a conference in Baltimore where we will review the history and evidence for programs to distribute naloxone to people who use drugs and other community members, discuss innovative ways for ensuring wide access to the medication and review best practice in and naloxone access laws. Participants will have the opportunity to brainstorm things they can do to increase access to naloxone in their area – whether or not their state has permissive laws. I’m going to bring that information back to Tennessee and start doing what I can to save more lives.

“Where there’s life there’s hope.”  -Cicero

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