When Faith Goetz-Isaacs saw a 16-year-old boy kneeling over and struggling to breath outside of the School of Creative Performing Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio, she immediately jumped into action. Digging through her bag for Narcan, a nasal spray which reverses drug overdoses, she shouted instructions at the two other women at the scene.
Goetz-Isaacs and the women got the boy on his back and administered the narcan. The boy still was not breathing. As the police arrived, she asked if they had a second dose of narcan. When they said they did not, she grew frustrated.
Ten long minutes later, EMT’s finally arrived on the scene with more narcan. After they administered the second dose, the boy at last awoke.
As someone who refuses to leave home without Narcan since first learning how to use it at a Pride festival years prior, Goetz-Isaac was taken aback when the officer explained to her that a previous rule requiring officers carry Narcan had been rescinded and that none of the officers on patrol had taken the initiative to get some themselves. This feeling was further emphasized when she learned the seriousness of the boy’s situation.
“The cop said that given how long it took them to get here, the boy would not have made it had I not been there with the initial dose,” said Goetz-Isaacs, an actor and activist from Cincinnati. “I think that would weigh more heavily on me, but I’m trying to not let it.”
Goetz-Isaacs is one of many people whose commitment to carrying Narcan has made the difference between overdosing individuals living and dying.
Ohio has the second highest rate of drug overdoses in the United States. While narcan is a useful tool in reversing overdoses, experts say that stigma and an overall lack of knowledge on the topic stand in the way of wider accessibility.
Ashley Rosser is a harm reduction specialist and a co-founder of Thrive for Change, a Cuyahoga County-based nonprofit that distributes narcan and educates community members and government officials about the importance of harm reduction. Harm reduction refers to practices and policies meant to reduce the negative consequences of certain human behaviors, including drug use.
“What causes a lot of the barriers that we’re seeing as far as harm reduction, including in regards to narcan, is the fact that a lot of people aren’t educated on what it means and how it can have an impact and how that translates into real life,” Rosser said.
Having reversed overdoses with narcan on three occasions, Jessica Collier knows a thing or two about harm reduction.
The first incident occurred in her former neighborhood in Old Brooklyn. Driving late at night, she came across a car parked in someone’s front lawn. With no one else around, Collier pulled over and approached the vehicle. The man at the wheel, who smelled of alcohol, was unconscious.
After trying unsuccessfully to wake him, she realized the man was barely breathing and had begun to turn colors. She rushed back to her car to grab narcan and quickly pumped a dose into the man’s nose. He awoke immediately.
Collier has herself gone through drug recovery programs. Her personal experiences with substance use and recovery drove her to commit much of her life to harm reduction and fighting the debilitating stigma that follows people who use drugs. She starts a new job at Thrive for Change this month.
“Nobody deserves to die,” Collier said. “If you would save a life in any other crisis situation, then carry narcan so that you’re prepared for this.”
“It’s free,” she said. “It’s available. There’s really no reason not to anymore.”