Last Sunday, Shannon Rugh was taking a leisurely drive through a small town in northern Virginia when she decided to stop for a cup of coffee.
For Rugh, 42, of Mt. Lebanon, it ended up being a fateful decision.
Though she had visited the town before, she took a wrong turn and ended up on a side street. That’s when she noticed about five or six people giving someone the Heimlich maneuver.
It wasn’t working.
Rugh soon realized that the person needing assistance had overdosed. Last June, she had taken opioid response training provided by the Allegheny County Health Department. The training taught her to recognize overdose symptoms. The victim stops breathing, and Narcan must be administered.
Rugh was traveling with her Narcan kit. Narcan (naloxone) is an opioid nasal spray that looks like a miniature dose of Flonase. She administered two doses of Narcan before paramedics arrived.
“It all happened so fast,” Rugh said Tuesday, recalling the incident. “I just happened to be there and I was ready. You’re supposed to wait two minutes before giving the second dose. I don’t know if I truly waited the two minutes, but the person was blue from lack of oxygen.”
Rugh made the choice to administer the Narcan because she had been taught that it won’t cause any harm to a person.
“It only works to reverse the effects of an overdose,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to hurt this person. And within moments this person was gasping for breath.”
Rugh, a mother of two, owns Commonwealth Press, a Pittsburgh screen printing company, with her husband, Dan. She had decided that the ravages of the opioid epidemic meant that it was possible that she or someone she knew would be confronted with an overdose situation.
Rugh declined to say whether the individual was male or female or name the specific town where the incident happened to protect their privacy.
When paramedics arrived, they informed the person that Rugh had just saved their life, she said.
“They said ‘You’re alive because that woman gave you Narcan before we got here.’ I’m just glad I was there,” she said.
Otis Pitts, the health department’s Deputy Director of Public Policy and Community Relations, said they are starting to hear similar stories.
“We attribute the trend to a significant decrease in the stigma associated with opioid use disorder and a related increase in people’s willingness and desire to carry naloxone,” Pitts said.
Commonwealth Press sponsored Narcan training for their employees, and they all decided to participate.
As of late July, ACHD had conducted 42 naloxone trainings in 2019, according to Pitts.
“ACHD not only reaches businesses like Commonwealth Press, but also a broad collection of nonprofits, community groups, and individuals that may witness an overdose,” Pitts said.
For her part, Rugh says it’s as much of a life-saving tool as CPR.
“The training was so easy and effective that if I can do it, a Mt. Lebanon mother of two, anyone can do it,” she said.