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Narcan on demand

By James Niedzinski, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 03--For a variety of reasons, house calls by doctors have fallen out of fashion.

But one Gloucester resident will still answer if called.

If you give Gary Langis a ring for back pain or a headache, you're out of luck. But Langis, along with outreach coordinator Kathy Day, has been serving up nasal naloxone, a drug that temporarily reverses the effects of a drug overdose caused by opiates.

Under the brand name Narcan, the lifesaving drug has been responsible for numerous overdose reversals here in the city and an estimated 2,000 overdose reversals statewide.

Gloucester was the first city in the state to have police and other first responders carry Narcan, and Langis' project has now stepped up the effort to get the drug into the hands of those who need it most -- the addicts and those who are close to addicts.

The "mini-funded" program, as Langis puts it, is not for the average resident who wants to learn how to use nasal Narcan just in case they might come across an overdose. It is sponsored by the Department of Public Health, which funds a program through Mass. General Hospital that enables Langis to make stops to areas such as Revere, Winthrop and Chelsea. His work on Cape Ann is all pro-bono.

Langis said he got the OK from the state Health Department to serve Cape Ann on the side; in turn, the state provides him with Narcan.

Langis, whose family has been tragically touched by addiction, has been a master trainer in the use of the drug since 2007. He has also been involved in needle-exchange programs, helped Gloucester's annual vigil for overdose victims get off the ground and was a part of Gloucester's Healthy Streets Outreach program, before that program was packed up and moved to Lynn because of budget cuts.

"At the time, we enrolled hundreds and hundreds of people," he said. "(The pullout) just stopped the availability of naloxone in this area."

Langis said he's now been making house calls for about two to three months; so far, he has visited about 20 residences on Cape Ann.

Where Langis' work fits into the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative is yet to be determined. Collaborative Executive Director Joan Whitney said she is meeting with Langis next week to ensure his program is not "too redundant with other programs."

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"We bring everyone to the table, and we figure out how we can help each other," she said.

Langis said he also recognizes the naysayers that are still out there -- those who even say that reviving drug addicts is not helping, only hurting the drug epidemic.

But, this is a large social problem. Langis noted that reviving drug addicts from a potentially fatal overdose gives them hope and another chance at sobriety.

Narcan, an opioid antagonist, works by blocking the drug's interaction with the brain, which allows the overdose victim to breathe easier. Before the days of nasal Narcan or naloxone, paramedics or first responders had to keep the victim breathing on the way to the hospital.

The effects of the drug are only temporary, and the overdose victim still needs to get to a hospital, as he or she could slip back into the overdose state.

"We remind people to call 911 all the way through," Langis said. "Medical assistance is imperative; it's a life-or-death situation."

Narcan, in the hands of someone properly trained, allows them to act instantly -- with no fear of criminal charges that may arise by calling 911. A state law allows anyone who calls 911 in the event of a drug overdose -- and the overdose victim -- to essentially shrug off minor criminal charges such as drug possession.

Langis' house calls, aimed at training people to use the lifesaving drug, come with have no strings attached.

"All the stuff we do in Gloucester is free of charge, no insurance, no names," he said.

There are other outlets to obtaining Narcan, such as through the Learn to Cope group meetings, which also offer support for anyone who has a friend or family member struggling with addiction. Walgreens, in Gloucester'sMain Street plaza also carries the drug, available by prescription, according to spokesman Phil Caruso.

Unfortunately, Langis said, there is still a stigma surrounding addiction that discourages and families from seeking out prescriptions -- even for people who want to get help or want to have a potentially lifesaving tool on hand. He said sometimes people don't want to be seen going to get help, for fear of being associated with heroin or opiates.

Anyone seeking confidential overdose prevention training and access to Narcan may call Langis at 617-912-7554.

"What's the alternative?" Langis asked. "Watch people die?"

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-675-2708, or at [email protected].

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(c)2014 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.)

Visit the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.) at www.gloucestertimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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