I’ve mentioned Project Lazarus in a previous blog entry. In that blog, I was cautiously supportive of this project, which provides kits to opioid addicts to reverse a life-threatening overdose with intranasal naloxone. Since that blog post, I’ve become a whole-hearted supporter of Project Lazarus, due to an incident in a community where I work. I’m going to change some of the details and circumstances of this occurrence so that the individuals involved can’t be recognized.
Last month, a young lady seeking admission to the opioid treatment program said she came for help because she’d almost died four days earlier. She said she’d injected a normal (for her) dose of opioids, and passed out. Her breathing either stopped or slowed dramatically, because her brother, an established patient at this clinic, found her unresponsive and blue. He couldn’t see her taking any breaths. Panicked, he called his counselor at the clinic, who told him to disconnect immediately so he could call 911, and then get his naloxone kit he’d been given when he entered treatment and started on methadone.
He followed those instructions precisely. After calling 911, he used his kit and shot the naloxone into his sister’s nose. He says the medication worked quickly, and she woke up within a minute or two. Though she had nausea and other opioid withdrawal symptoms, she was awake and alert by the time EMS personnel got to their house. Unfortunately, she refused to get in the ambulance to be taken for an evaluation at the emergency department, but her brother sat with her the rest of the day, and she had no further episodes of sedation.
Here she was, four days later, somberly considering how easily she could have died. “I’m not ready to die. I’m only 26 years old. I always thought people who died from drugs didn’t know how to do them right and took too much. But I took the same amount I’m used to taking. I don’t know why I overdosed that time. It made me see I’ve got to do something different if I want to stay alive. My brother was a worse addict than me, and I’ve seen him change his life since he’s been on methadone. I want that too.”
We discussed her treatment options and she agreed to try buprenorphine first. She started treatment that first day and so far has done very well. Every time I see her around the clinic, I’m reminded that she may not be alive today if not for her brother’s naloxone kit.
I now highly recommend these naloxone kits for any opioid addict. It’s not a treatment or permanent solution for addiction, but it can help keep an opioid addict alive long enough to find a treatment that works for him or her.