Are you equipped to respond to an opioid overdose?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2017 more than 702,000 people died from a drug overdose. In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States. Of those deaths, almost 68 percent involved opioids.

Communities are taking action to address the opioid overdose crisis in the United States. The Cambridge Public Health Department offers free overdose prevention training to anyone who is interested in participating. 

According to Tali Schiller, Substance Use Prevention Coordinator at the Cambridge Public Health Department, by learning how to act when one encounters an opioid overdose situation, Cambridge residents can assist in stopping the opioid epidemic from taking more lives. 

The Cambridge Public Health Department offers one-hour, free of charge training sessions that cover the signs and symptoms of an overdose, protocols to respond to an overdose, and how to access naloxone, also known as Narcan, the medication that reverses an opioid overdose. 

“Training sessions can consist of as few as five people or as many as 50 people at a time,” said Schiller, who has a Master’s degree in Public Health and conducts the training sessions. 

When asked about the reasons to conduct such training sessions, Schiller’s response was that in 2017, more than half of the opioid overdose reversals were by bystanders rather than professional first responders, based on the available data collected and analyzed by the health department. By enrolling in the class, one can learn about the signs to look for and how to provide basic first aid in response to overdoses. “I want to give people the tools they need to save their friends and neighbors,” she said.  

Schiller said that people who participate in the training sessions feel more capable of recognizing and responding to people who need medical attention. People who are overdosing may sometimes look like they are asleep, so it can be difficult to know if they are experiencing a medical emergency. The training gives people the tools they need to understand the difference. Schiller also confirmed that at least one person who participated in the training later used naloxone to revive someone who was overdosing. 

According to Bill Manley, Marketing and Events Manager for the Harvard Square Business Association, information about the training sessions was provided to over 100 businesses in Harvard Square in person. The Harvard Square Business Association represents approximately 400 businesses in Harvard Square. Manley attended the training session last year in Central Square and this year in Harvard Square. 

Manley said, “The course was incredibly useful as it allayed the fears that local businesses had. The course let the local business community know that the police department and the public health department are working together to help them.” He also added that the course was interactive and full of dialogue between the instructor and the participants.

Spencer Campbell, who has been working for The Coop in Harvard Square for the past couple of years, heard about the course from the Harvard Square Business Association and approached his supervisor to gain permission to attend. In August 2019 he attended the class with approximately 25 other participants. Campbell wanted to attend the class so that he can be prepared in case someone is unresponsive at their store. 

Since attending the course, he made photocopies of the handouts he received from class and posted the handouts throughout the store for everyone to access. Additionally, he has discussed with fellow employees about all the resources that are available for them through the city in case they encounter such a situation. Campbell stated, “Although I haven’t had to utilize the knowledge from class yet to respond to a situation, I feel better prepared to do so.” For those who are interested in participating and learning more about the training sessions, please contact Tali Schiller at the Cambridge Public Health Department, naschiller@challiance.org or 617-665-3872. 

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