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It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Phoenix. Many students are enjoying their weekends, perhaps relaxing by a pool or simply vegging out to some Netflix. However, some have chosen to find seats in one of ASU’s Mercado building training rooms to learn how to stand up to the growing nationwide opioid epidemic, as well as the impact it’s having in Arizona. The subject of the day: Naloxone 101. The instructor: Haley Coles.
Haley Coles is the founder and executive director of Sonoran Prevention Works, a grassroots organization created to reduce vulnerabilities faced by individual and communities impacted by drug use in Arizona. They provide community workshops, training, referrals, consultation, and risk reduction in order to prevent HIV, Hepatitis C, overdose and the perpetuation of stigma. They also facilitate the largest free naloxone distribution network in the state.
So what is naloxone? Naloxone (commonly referred to as ‘narcan’) is a life-saving generic drug that acts as an opioid antagonist. This means the drug has a stronger affinity for opioid receptors and will replace and/or block said receptors, thus preventing an overdose. It is used to treat individuals who have taken an excessive amount of an opioid substance and are no longer conscious. It is the only medication that works to immediately reverse the situation.
In fact, it is so effective it prompted a rarely used public advisory from the surgeon general himself;
“For patients currently taking high doses of opioids as prescribed for pain, individuals missing prescription opioids, individuals using illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl, health are practitioners, family and friends of people who have an opioid use disorder, and community members who come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose, knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life.” - VADM Jerome Adams, Surgeon General, U.S. Public Health Service (April 11, 2018).
It’s not just naloxone that will save lives. Coles begins her course with an overview of the most up-to-date local research involving opioid-related encounters, and states what she believes is really needed to combat the issue;
“There were 1,497 overdose deaths in Arizona in 2016, of those, 790 were opioid-related. It's not just opioids, death and illness from all drugs are increasing. From my perspective, the crisis isn't necessarily about drug use, it's about the negative and mostly preventable impacts of unsafe drug use.” - Haley Coles.
This is an important distinction to which students are given a broader understanding. Coles teaches the concept of ‘harm reduction,’ otherwise known as ‘meeting people where they are at,’ and how to also fight the stigma associated with illicit drugs, which can be just as (if not more), deadly than the drugs themselves. Students learn to identify various risk factors associated with opioid use such as: drug mixing, variation in drug purity, tolerance changes, people who use alone and those in poor physical health. After a broad picture has been painted, class members are then given a naloxone kit and taught to assess an overdose situation to provide treatment.
The course is not just available for college students, if you are interested in learning about the current opioid crisis and tangible strategies to prevent overdose, and would like detailed information about naloxone and how to use it to rescue a victim, than this is the class for you.
The Center for Applied Behavioral Health will host Haley Coles and the next Naloxone 101 course on April 17th from 1-4 p.m. in Prescott, AZ. For more information and to register follow this link;
If you are interested in learning more about Sonoran Prevention Works, visit their website http://spwaz.org/.