CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Volunteers and public health workers set up shop in parks, churches, post offices and community centers Thursday for the largest event for overdose reversal drug training and distribution in West Virginia’s history.
It was the third time the state, which has seen the most opioid overdose deaths per capita out of any other in the U.S., hosted a “Save a Life Day” event. But it was the first time the effort has reached all 55 counties.
“People were reaching out to us and saying, ‘How can we do this in our community?’” said Stacy Kay, co-director of Charleston-based Solutions Oriented Addiction Response, an organization involved with planning the event. “People are really recognizing a need to have Narcan in their first aid kids.”
West Virginia has by far the nation’s highest overdose death rate, and four out of every five fatal overdoses in West Virginia in 2021 involved an opioid.
Organizers said they had at least 10,000 doses of Narcan — a name-brand overdose reversal drug — to distribute, along with a 10- to 15-minute training session on how to use it and other resources. Those materials also included CPR masks and informational pamphlets on how to identify signs of an opioid overdose. Narcan was provided by the state Office of Drug Control Policy.
West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute also provided over 10,000 fentanyl test strips to be distributed across the state. This year, the state Legislature decriminalized Fentanyl test strips, which help drug users identify fentanyl and other potentially deadly chemicals.
Kay said because of the stigma around substance use disorder, people have been made to feel shame in the past about carrying and picking up Narcan, which is available at pharmacies.
“How many people feeling that shame are going to walk in and ask for the help they need?” she said. “Even there, you’ll find stigma if you walk in and try to access it.”
Kay said you never know when you might need Narcan — it could be for a family member, a coworker or a stranger.
“One thing we should be doing is normalizing it — it’s like carrying an EpiPen,” she said. “By sharing our stories and getting out there talking about it publically, we’re taking the stigma away.
“It’s really just being that connection to care when they’re ready — just to promote the message that we believe that everybody deserves a second chance and every life is worth saving.”
The theme for this year’s event was “meeting people where they are.”
In addition to more than 180 locations throughout the state, mobile outreach teams were also deployed to hard-hit areas to provide Narcan and other resources to people who might not know about Save a Life Day or wouldn’t feel comfortable coming to one of the sites.