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We are all first responders

If you came upon a stranger dying from an overdose, would you help?

With 91 Americans dying every day as a result of an opioid overdose, this seemingly hypothetical question is rapidly becoming all too real. For more than a dozen citizens who attended a Narcan training session at the Wilton Library this week, the answer was a resounding yes.

Narcan is a lifesaving drug that rapidly reverses an overdose. Virtually anyone can be taught to administer it. The Wilton training session was led by Ellen Brezovsky, director of community relations at Silver Hill Hospital. We’d like to see similar sessions offered throughout Fairfield County.

Narcan works by blocking the brain’s opioid receptors, negating the effects of heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone. Although its opioid-blocking effects are only temporary, Narcan buys users crucial time — 30 to 90 minutes, on average — in which to seek further medical attention, and — one would hope — treatment to end their substance abuse.

In recent days, Narcan has saved the lives of four jail inmates in New Jersey, a toddler in Ohio, a couple in Indiana, and a Labrador Retriever in Maine, among others. (The toddler had ingested an unknown substance he found in a bag at a park. The dog had chewed the cap off her owner’s oxycodone vial and eaten 25 tablets.)

Most often administered as a nasal spray, Narcan is easy to carry and simple to use, a powerful lifesaving tool in a package no bigger than a matchbook. It’s not addictive and has no serious health effects when taken by a person not suffering from a drug overdose. And it can be prescribed to anyone by any licensed health care practitioner.

Under legislation passed in 2015, pharmacists are also allowed to prescribe Narcan, provided they complete a training course, keep records, and train potential dispensers, who are given immunity under Good Samaritan laws.

The Wilton attendees received free Narcan kits provided by Silver Hill. In addition to learning how to use them, they were taught to recognize the shallow breathing, pallid skin, and nodding that signal an overdose.

As elsewhere, Narcan kits have become standard equipment in police cruisers in Wilton, where there have been seven overdose calls — and no fatalities — over the past three years in which opioid use was suspected. A donation by the Wilton Woman’s Club covered the cost.

Last year, there were 917 overdose deaths in Connecticut, of which 94 percent involved opioids.

There’s no way of knowing how many Narcan could have saved, how many second chances it could have helped buy.

What it can’t do is put an end to the ever-worsening opioid epidemic that is now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. Until that ends, we are all first responders.