Taking Steps to Raise Overdose Awareness

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

There were 2,000 overdose deaths in Massachusetts last year.

“The number of fatal overdoses from 2001-2014 grew six-fold,” said Mayor Brian Arrigo. “It is the leading cause of death for those under the age of 50.” These sobering statistics were delivered at an event in the Revere High School Auditorium last Thursday night that was sparsely attended, but still, those who attended heard a powerful message.

Arrigo said opening the Substance Use Disorders Initiative office (SUDI) on Revere Street with a drop-in center, and coordination with the police and fire departments, is the first step in combatting the opioid epidemic in Revere. The programs offered have been recognized by the state and nationally.

“We have to challenge the stigma of this issue,” Arrigo said. “Addiction can happen to any of us, and we are committed to stopping the next fatal overdose.”

Veteran Brian Tippin, 42, shared his story with the audience, beginning with the loss of his parents to the loss of his brothers. Tippin faced addiction himself and is now in recovery, sharing his story.

“I was great at hiding things,” he said, adding that he faithfully worked during the week, but on the weekends he would drink and do drugs.

Tippin said he has been in detox over 100 times. He’s overdosed six times and been saved by Narcan multiple times.

“I’ve lost 25 lifelong friends to addiction,” he said at the podium on the stage. “Many of them wanting to do it ‘one more time’.”

He said that he was tired of seeing the loss of parents, brothers and sisters.

“I’m hopeful everyone will get involved in the battle against addiction,” Tippin said.

State Sen. Joe Boncore said the state is spending $132 million combatting the problem through the bureau of substance abuse.

On local streets,  the battle is being waged by Revere firefighters and police.

Retired Fire Department Capt. Jay Picariello shared the story of the firefighters and the use of Narcan.

“Seventy-five percent of our calls are medical calls,” Picariello said. “Before Narcan there was no other tool to keep someone alive.”

Now, Narcan, which reverses the effects of opiates on the human body, is carried on every piece of fire apparatus. Police also carry Narcan. Without Narcan a brain without oxygen can only last four to six minutes before brain damage occurs.

“The stigma of overdosing has to change,” Picariello said, before a YouTube video about the fire department and Narcan was shown to the audience.

The Revere Fire Department began carrying Narcan in March 2010. In the first year it was used 10 times. So far in the following years,  Narcan has been used on overdose victims 93 times.

He said one of the hardest things about using Narcan in the fire department was changing the attitudes of some of the firefighters.

“There was a reluctance to Narcan,” he said. “As of today we have had 330 reversals due to Narcan. The Narcan program is saving lives.”

Now firefighters do follow up calls with families and those whose loved one were saved with Narcan

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