By Jedidiah Hendrixson and Brittany Glassey
Linda Alagna’s son was 13 years old the first time he overdosed on opioids. It wasn’t the last time.
“He started hanging out with the bad kid , and getting into fights,” Alagna said. “He overdosed three more times before he was 18, and Narcan brought him back from the dead.” Since then, Alagna’s son has successfully turned his life around and fought back from his former addiction, maintaining a steady engineering job. Many who overdose aren’t as lucky.
March 2nd, Governor Andrew Cuomo made the prescription drug Narcan, also known as naloxone, available at independent pharmacies state-wide. Narcan can be administered by policemen, firefighters or any first responders, but Long Island is taking steps to make sure citizens can help prevent these deaths too.
Dr. James Dolan, a Long Island therapist who specializes in treating preteens and adolescents who struggle with addiction, has joined the cause to educate residents. “26 people have been saved by Narcan trained civilians on Long Island so far,” Dolan said. “These people have been given a second chance at life.”
Nassau County’s three-pronged approach toward combating opioid addiction and overdose, led partially by Detective Pamela Stark, calls for “enforcement, education and awareness.” Stark has been working in the NCPD’s community affairs department since 2009 and has certified all Nassau school districts in Narcan training.
The overdose preventing drug has recently become available in 14 states. Select states like Michigan and North Carolina, as well as New York, are offering civilians the chance to learn how to reverse the potentially fatal effects of an overdose. Since 2011, in Nassau County alone over 500 people have died from heroin overdoses.
Executive Director Jamie Bogenshutz of the Community Counseling Centers, along with a voluntary board of directors, organizes and executes Narcan training events on Long Island. Last year 115 training events were held, and Bogenshutz is already up to her 22nd this year.
“We want to help save lives,” Bogenshutz said. “To teach people, help them understand addiction, and prevent tragedies from occurring.” Nationwide since its widespread divulsion, Narcan has reversed upwards of 10,000 overdoses.
Justin Casson, 24, experienced his first overdose in high school. Casson still relapses occasionally, but has grown stronger with the support of his family and counselors. “Even a friend of mines death hasn’t stopped me from using,” he said. “That’s how deep in you get.”
“These recent relapses are only speed bumps, they’re learning experiences,” Casson said. “If I could tell any addict one thing right now, I’d say ‘stay teachable, don’t ignore the help.”