A regional program on the North Shore to encourage people to carry the overdose-reversing drug naloxone deserves serious consideration by every community in the region.

With all the focus over the past year on the pandemic, the problem of opioid addiction — and all-too-frequent deaths — fell into the shadows, except for those people living the reality each day. Some reports point to an increase in opioid use and addiction during the pandemic because of depression brought on by isolation, job losses and disconnection from what had been our normal routines.

Earlier this year, Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Danvers and Beverly signed on to promote “Carry a Lifeline” — a program that aims to destigmatize the carrying of the nasal spray naloxone, sometimes known by the brand name Narcan. When used promptly, naloxone can reverse an overdose of heroin, fentanyl and other opioids, and save a life. The idea is to encourage more people to carry this lifesaver, not just people who know people caught in the cycle of opioid use.

Lest anyone think deaths from opioid use only happen somewhere else, state Department of Public Health data from 2019 show how widespread the addiction problem is.

Gloucester, for example, reported 14 overdose deaths in 2019, Newburyport reported three, Amesbury reported seven deaths and Haverhill reported 22 that year. Lawrence, the largest city in the region, reported 54 people died in 2019 from overdoses, while Beverly recorded 17, Salem and Methuen each reported 15, and Salisbury reported four deaths.

This “Carry a Lifeline” program doesn’t aim to take the place of emergency medical care. Anyone witnessing a potential opioid overdose — major signs being distressed breathing and going in and out of consciousness — should call 9-1-1 and then administer the nasal spray. But the program does aim to make access to naloxone more widespread so it’s at hand when needed.

“We are trying to take down barriers that we see have been put in place for people who have tried to access Narcan,” Jennifer Beloff, a program director at Gloucester-based Action Inc., told reporter Taylor Ann Bradford.

As the program rolls out in these seven communities it will be promoted on ads on Cape Ann Transportation Authority buses, in bus shelters and train platforms, and on a billboard in Danvers.

There was a time, when naloxone spray was new, it was viewed as something only trained emergency responders should be able to carry and use. As the opioid crisis has continued, experience by EMTs and police officers has shown how the prompt use of naloxone spray on someone who is at risk of overdose literally saves lives. The idea of making this potentially life-saving drug more available makes sense.

Tito Rodriguez of the Gloucester Police Community Impact Unit told Bradford, “Narcan is like a fire extinguisher. Everyone has one, not because you want to use it, but because you might have to use it.”

“Narcan is the same thing,” he said.

Narcan temporarily bumps opioids off the place in a person’s brain that slows breathing, according to the manufacturer’s website. “The Narcan then temporarily replaces the opioids, attaches to the receptors, and restores breathing, which allows oxygen to get to the brain.”

Narcan, or naloxone, doesn’t erase the opioids in a person’s body, but it can temporarily stop the fatal impact while more advanced medical intervention is brought in.

One plus is that the nasal spray won’t harm a person who isn’t suffering from an opioid overdose.

It’s hard to find a good argument against making naloxone more available, not just on Cape Ann but throughout the region. Local pharmacies can supply the drug, and the One Stop Harm Reduction Center makes naloxone and training in how to use it available for free.

For more about the “Carry a Lifeline” campaign go to carryalifeline.com.

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