Westmoreland offers training to respond to drug overdoses
Jessica McCaffrey was prepared.
She knew the signs of a drug overdose and had been trained to use naloxone.
And she had a kit in her car, ready to use the antidote that can reverse potentially fatal opioid overdoses.
For 10 minutes one day this year, McCaffrey performed CPR on a man unconscious from a drug overdose after finding him in a Greensburg parking lot. She administered naloxone, also known as Narcan, with the help of other passersby.
The man awoke just as paramedics arrived, she recalled.
“I try to be mindful and carry it whenever, wherever I can,” said the 35-year-old South Greensburg woman, a certified recovery specialist with Westmoreland Community Action. “I know that it can happen at any time, any place. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if it's a stranger's life or not. It's someone's child.”
The Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission has purchased and distributed nearly 900 naloxone kits since September 2015. Each comes in a red zipper pouch with two doses of naloxone and an instruction card.
Thirty-four recipients have voluntarily reported using a kit to reverse an overdose.
Colleen Hughes, the commission's director, believes there have been far more and that the kits are making an impact.
“I truly believe that ... there would be a lot more deaths if we were not out there doing the training,” she said.
Westmoreland County has seen a surge in drug-overdose deaths, with a suspected 130 — which would be a record high — so far in 2016.
Coroner statistics this week show 88 confirmed deaths from drug overdoses with another 42 suspected cases still being investigated.
There were 126 in 2015, up from 87 in 2014.
Many police departments in the county now carry naloxone in response to the opioid-overdose epidemic. But residents also are getting equipped.
Some might have a family member or friend battling an addiction or who are using a legitimate painkiller prescription, while others want to be able to help if faced with the situation.
“They are saving people's lives,” Hughes said. “If they are in maybe a high-risk community, they know that people are dropping left and right. ... I would think they are being proactive. They want to be able to save a person's life.”
Tim Phillips, director of the county's Drug Overdose Task Force, conducts several hourlong trainings each month and sometimes provides participants with the naloxone kits from the commission.
Naloxone also is available at pharmacies without a prescription. Regular people having the kits offers a “front-line defense” to reduce the number of deaths, Phillips said.
“Anyone can become addicted, anyone can become dependent on an opiate,” he said. “We want to make sure we're responsible and get it in the hands of people who need it.”
Kendra DiLascio is lucky that paramedics and friends had naloxone when she overdosed — in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Now a certified recovery specialist with SPHS Behavioral Health Services, the 33-year-old Derry woman is working on a master's degree and hopes to help push others battling a drug addiction toward a path of success.
“I wasn't ready to stop using,” DiLascio said. “I didn't think it was that bad. I didn't think I was that bad.”
She has been clean since 2012 when “something just clicked in my head,” DiLascio said.
She trains clients on how to use naloxone and distributes kits. She also carries one herself.
DiLascio thinks her story helps put the importance of recovery into perspective.
“I'm grateful that we're getting it out there because we're seeing an impact with it,” she said. “If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be here right now.”
Kathie Tanyer of Jeannette along with eight other people received naloxone training in September.
She now carries a kit in her purse.
“I believe that it's up to every one of us to save a life if there's an opportunity to do so,” Tanyer said. “I think it's important for regular citizens because it seems more and more that people are overdosing in public places.”
McCaffrey, who overcame her own addiction in 2011, now talks to students at local schools, hoping to help them avoid a destructive path. The drug epidemic is going to get worse, she said.
“That's all you need is a bag of (naloxone), some compassion and a little bit of courage,” she said. “It can happen at any time at any place. You never know whose life you might save and change.”
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or email@example.com.