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Narcan: The Gift Every Parent Should Be Giving

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by Suki Jones

Going to Bay Area parties as a teen is a rite of passage. From suburban backyard parties to underground warehouse parties, you would be hard pressed to encounter anyone raised in the Bay Area that has not partaken in this experience. Shout out to Oakland and New Years Eve 1993. Unfortunately, my own experience through this passage led me to heroin addiction in the 1990s, and luckily I survived it. I however, did not have to contend with the beast that is Fentanyl.

As a recovered addict, and a parent myself, I am persistent about giving my young-adult kids Narcan. I know they are safer with it than without. It is a given that I will, without a doubt, be stuffing stockings with Narcan and fentanyl test strips at Christmas.

Narcan [brand name for Naloxone] can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes. The form of Narcan I prefer to give out is a Nasal Spray which was developed to use without the need of any medical training, although I would recommend watching an instructional video. You can also read more about it right here.

And if you’re in San Francisco: Anybody can get a free nasal Narcan kit and brief training from our friends at the CBHS Pharmacy at 1380 Howard Street (at 10th Street), Monday – Friday, 9 am – 3:30 pm. 

The opioid epidemic may seem to have come from nowhere, but it’s been creeping in slowly, gaining momentum since the late 1990s. Fentanyl belongs to a class of drugs known as rapid-acting synthetic pharmaceuticals. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and is quick acting. It causes depression of the central nervous system and respiratory functions. It is efficient in what it does.

Expecting young people to not experiment with drugs is like expecting not to hear Mariah Carey singing in December while you’re shopping at Safeway.

Illicit fentanyl is made primarily outside of the United States in clandestine labs. It is distributed across the country and sold through illegal drug markets. Fentanyl is mixed in with other illicit drugs; cut into methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and counterfeit press pills. The look alike prescription pills often contain potentially lethal amounts of fentanyl. According to the DEA, 42% of illicit pills tested contain at least 2 mg of fentanyl, a potentially lethal dose. Sadly, kids keep dying from pills cut with fentanyl.

If you have teens, college aged kids, or young adult family members, I would encourage you to do the same. Serve it up with pie on the fourth Thursday of November, wrap it with a bow for Hanukkah or adorn it with Christmas tinsel. Expecting young people to not experiment with drugs is like expecting not to hear Mariah Carey singing in December while you’re shopping at Safeway.

Even if you are certain that your sister, brother, son, or daughter doesn’t use drugs and never will, the probability that one of their peers will is good. Give them the tools to be prepared. According to NCDAS, overdose deaths due to opioids have increased 500% among 15 to 24-year-olds since 1999, and in the 21st Century, opioid-related OD deaths among this age group increased by as much as 30.7% annually. The Center for Disease Control reported that nationally, in 2021 there were 71,000 overdose fatalities from fentanyl. Looking at statistics for fatal overdoses in California (courtesy of CDPH) in particular, by age group, in 2021, for people aged 20 to 24 there were 568 fentanyl overdose fatalities, and for people aged 15 to 19 there were 229.

Giving someone narcan goes beyond parenting, common sense or harm reduction. It is about being of service to the young people in your community and allowing them to be a little bit safer in a world that sometimes seems stacked against them.

It is important for young people to have Narcan and know how to use it, even if they themselves don’t use drugs. I spoke recently with Nata Oberg, Harm Reduction Therapist with the City and County of San Francisco Overdose Response Team, who said, “a far larger percentage of people are saved from OD by peers and bystanders who carry [Narcan] rather than medical professionals.”

Similarly in a conversation I had with Eliza Wheeler, of Remedy Alliance for the People, she stated that “Anyone can get naloxone from a pharmacy in California. That’s where I would send a parent if they wanted to carry it.  And I would encourage them to make sure their teens are actually the ones who carry it [as opposed to the parent keeping it]”.

Giving someone narcan goes beyond parenting, common sense or harm reduction. It is about being of service to the young people in your community and allowing them to be a little bit safer in a world that sometimes seems stacked against them. In addition to giving Narcan, talk to your children about drugs, openly and honestly. If your child is using drugs encourage them to test what they are using and not use alone. There are hotlines such as Mandy’s Line (1-800-943-0540) that will stay on the phone with a drug user while they are using. Test strips are available through many harm reduction programs including Glide in San Francisco as well as various links on the California Department of Public Health webpage. If you boil down the essence of holiday spirit, I would say there is no better gift that you could give than potentially saving another person’s life.

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