Screeching tires broke the silence on a quiet Saturday morning. A frantic man burst through the door. “Do you guys have Narcan?” he asked. “Somebody’s OD’ing right now! Right now! Right now!”
John Martinez, the volunteer coordinator for our Hope for Holyoke (HFH) peer recovery support center, knew there were two Narcan packages in a front desk drawer. And James Maloney, HFH’s peer resource specialist, had another two in his desk. HFH member Marcos Sepulveda sprinted across the street, and there was the victim, slumped over in a car seat.
The man, in his late 20s, had no pulse. “He was turning purple,” said John. Marcos opened a Narcan package and everyone sprang into action.
John called 911 from his cell phone. James also called 911 from the Hope for Holyoke land line “so we could make sure that it was the Holyoke Police Department that responded,” he said.
Marcos administered the Narcan. “There was saliva coming out of his mouth,” he said. “I started giving him CPR, and checked his pulse. It was real slow.” He performed more chest compressions. “His friend started smacking him,” said Marcos. “He was saying, ‘Come on, get up! Please!’ I said, ‘Don’t hit him. We got it.’”
Sheri Borsotti, an HFH member, as well as a peer leader and the center’s social media coordinator, calmed the driver down. “It’s going to be OK,” she said.
After two more doses of Narcan the man finally regained consciousness and got up. “Then the fire department and ambulance came and took over from there,” said John.
HFH does lifesaving work every day, providing support and helping prevent relapses, but little did employees and members know that on March 30 they would literally resuscitate a person on the brink of death.
“Imagine if we had been closed!” said Marcos.
It turned out to be a perfect storm of circumstances. HFH was preparing for its Morning Motivation meeting. A pedestrian had happened to be walking by and told the panicked driver that he could obtain Narcan at HFH. It was unclear why the driver had stopped at that location—possibly he knew that HFH was in the area and was afraid to go to the police station. “He was nervous because he didn’t have a driver’s license,” said John. Whatever the case may be, the bystander pointed him in exactly the right direction during an emergency in which every second counted. “We didn’t know any of them, but the guy walking by knew about us,” said John. “We all did what we needed to do—as if we had practiced.”
HFH was ready for such a situation because there was plenty of Narcan on hand, and Tapestry Health had provided them with Narcan training in March. Also, Marcos had remembered how to perform CPR from his days as a lifeguard from the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club. Deb Flynn-Gonzalez, HFH program director, was especially pleased that the bystander knew enough to tell the driver that Narcan was available across the street. “It shows the impact we have made in this community,” she said. “And we make sure we have enough Narcan on hand because some people need multiple doses, especially because sometimes fentanyl is involved.” Fentanyl is 25-50 times stronger than heroin.
The importance of Narcan in the opioid epidemic cannot be understated. It has been hailed across the country as an easy-to-use drug that reverses the effects of opioids and has saved thousands of lives, allowing overdose victims to breathe normally. Last fall, Gándara Center and Tapestry Health held Narcan overdose prevention trainings in Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, Chicopee, Holyoke, and Springfield. The latter two events were conducted in Spanish.
“Harm reduction is not our main focus here—we are a recovery center,” said Deb, “But we have to be realistic and know that we are going to do some harm reduction.” Indeed, in the midst of the worst drug crisis in the nation’s history, knowing how to use Narcan and keeping it within reach can save a life. It certainly did on a quiet spring morning in Holyoke—with the help of people who had been trained to know what to do.
“I had never come that close to seeing someone die,” said Sheri. The incident certainly made for an interesting Morning Motivation meeting afterward, which was emotional to say the least. Deb was “blown away” when the events were related to her. “Marcos—everybody involved—totally rose to the occasion,” she said.
Want to know more about Narcan? View the PowerPoint presentation delivered last fall at community trainings offered by Gándara Center and Tapestry.
The Holyoke Police log on Saturday morning, March 30.
Also on the wall at HFH!