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Naloxone training offered for community members in New Castle County

Megan Pauly
Delaware Public Media
Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at Brandywine Counseling Domenica Personti conducts a community naloxone training April 27th.

In 2014, the Division of Public Health says naloxone was administered over 1,200 times, saving close to 700 people.  And the state has distributed donated doses of the drug by its manufacturers to first responders, high school nurses, police departments and addiction treatment centers.


But to make these doses as effective as possible, efforts are being made to make them more readily available and make sure more people are trained how to administer them.

The Bellevue Community Center, in connection with the Delaware Prevention Coalition’s Planet Youth Coalition hosted a DOSE (Delaware Overdose Survival Education) training at the community center last week.

The training and free administration of the opioid reversal drug naloxone was conducted for around 20 participants by Brandywine Counseling - and Delaware Public Media's Megan Pauly was there.


Domenica Personti, Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at Brandywine Counseling, talked about what happens in the brain when someone is experiencing an overdose, and how naloxone helps reverse what she calls the “opiate happy dance,” wiping the opiates off brain receptors like a tidal wave - so they no longer limit the flow of oxygen to the brain.

She also talked about the critical window of time, 90 seconds up to 3 minutes, after the overdose during which permanent brain damage and even death can occur.  That’s when naloxone - in the hands of almost anyone properly trained - can help save lives.


"The EVZIO – the auto injector – is approved for 18 and under, it’s actually approved for 1 year old and up. Because we’ll have kids that will come and say they want it because they need it for one of their parents," Personti said.


In 2011 Brandywine Counseling noticed a trend of increased overdoses in the clients they were serving, and that those affected were getting younger and younger. In a 12-week time period that year, there were 52 overdose-related deaths.


“We started to see the overdose ticks so we were like: let’s see what we can do, because we were losing people,” Personti said.


In response, Personti went to California to look into a program there called DOPE (Drug Overdose Prevention & Education), after research found that administration of naloxone by trained community members was low risk: health-wise, and when it came to legal issues.


“I got to talk to people about how it worked, and to actually see people deliver the training and receive the training. I just came back and was like, we have to do this," Personti said. "This is amazing.”


Brandywine Counseling then began implementing the training for their clients, and eventually the state of Delaware began funding the program for up to 24 trainings each year, on top of daily trainings for the active using population.

Credit Megan Pauly / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Bellevue Community Center Executive Director Susan Strawbridge introduces the training.


“We’ll get people who will reach out and say I go to this church and a parishioner’s child just passed, or we attend this school and so and so just overdosed," Personti said. "We’re not going to say no: you can’t.”


Edgemoor resident Elizabeth Hughes, parent of a 4 year-old and 5-year-old, attended the training and says she sees addicts and drug dealers in her community all the time.


"I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t see the same few cars, the same few people going up the street," Hughes said. "You know where they’re going."


She recognizes that opiate abuse is a serious issue – especially in her neighborhood.


“I think it’s pretty bad, I think it’s scary," Hughes said. "My old neighbor who has overdosed twice and now nobody knows where they are. It’s just kind of sad.”


After attending the DOSE training, she realized that the issue in Delaware isn’t limited to her neck of the woods.


“Heroin is here, it’s in every community, it doesn’t discriminate, no matter what your socioeconomic background is, your gender, your race, your ethnic background…it is in all of our communities sadly, " New Castle County Police Capt. Pat Crowell said. "Because it is so addictive. One try and you’re addicted to this drug and we’ve seen nothing like it.”


Crowell says that in 2015 New Castle County police investigated 22 heroin-related deaths. That’s a 39% decrease from 2014, when 36 deaths were investigated. And he’s attributing this decrease to naloxone.


They currently have a pilot program of 40 officers who carry naloxone with them full time in their police cars. Over the past year, the officers have used naloxone 25 times and saved a life in each case.

Credit Megan Pauly / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
New Castle County police officers demonstrate how to administer naloxone during April 27 training.


“You talk to some of the officers deployed to where the person is totally unresponsive, turning blue, they administer the nasal Narcan and in five minutes the person is walking out to the ambulance with the paramedics," Crowell said.


Crowell says he hopes to expand the program, and is looking into federal and grant dollars to support that growth. He says Delaware’s placement between Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York makes it an attractive place for drug dealers. So far, heroin in Delaware has been traced to Mexico and California.


“The other scary thing in Delaware – and even the DEA doesn’t have an explanation for this – but our heroin is up to 90% pure," Crowell said. "You go to other states like Texas and the heroin is maybe 50% pure. So that’s another reason for some of these overdoses because the drug is so pure, and now the dealers are cutting with another drug called fentanyl, which is much more deadly and much more fast active.”


Crowell adds that education, training and prevention are key to fighting the war on drugs.


Personti encourages everyone to get trained in administration of naloxone, even if they don’t have a concern for an immediate family member or friend.


She adds that people shouldn’t be as afraid to call in and get help for a friend overdosing, because of the Good Samaritan laws that protects those individuals from prosecution in Delaware.


She says she personally understands the importance of not giving up on someone, from her involvement in the criminal justice and mental health systems when she was younger.

“If people had given up on me years ago, I wouldn’t be here today giving back and being of service,” Personti said.


The schedule for future DOSE trainings can be found here.


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