The Book on Narcan: Grants Train Librarians — Unlikely First-Responders — in War on Opioids

What sounded like snoring led security guards at the Penrose Library in Colorado Springs to a stall in the men’s restroom, where a spoon, lighter and needle left on the floor told them something was wrong. Sure enough, the snoring was instead the dangerously shallow breathing from a man who had overdosed. Not after one, but two doses of Narcan, the officers were able to revive the man and bring him back to life.

Narcan is the prescription name for naloxone, an emergency medication that when sprayed directly into the nostrils offsets an opioid overdose and removes the victim from the brink of death. At the beginning of this year, the Pike Peak Library District serving El Paso County, Colorado, began training security staff to administer Narcan. But that’s not all. Through a grant from Aspen Pointe, a Colorado Springs nonprofit that offers mental health, counseling services and treatment, library officials purchased 48 doses of the drug.  

Library systems, in other cities ranging from Philadelphia to San Francisco, have also begun stocking and training staff to administer Narcan. The nasal spray is just a temporary fix for the addict, but a response that an increasing number of unlikely groups across the United States are being asked to make. But, establishing intervention programs to identify and rescue addicts who have overdosed in Colorado or providing access to treatment and education in other parts of the country requires money.

The good news is the justice department set aside almost $59 million in grants last year for programs across the nation to address the opioid crisis. The task continues to challenge both nonprofits and for-profits alike. More than 63,600 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016. Most of those deaths involved opioids.

Grants, at least, have proved to be a heathy start. Officials in North Carolina claim more than 5,000 people — almost four times the number they expected – have been helped by a federal grant to tackle the opioid crisis that grips their state and the nation.

Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of GrantWatch, said state and federal agencies are targeting programs that will enable law enforcement, firefighters. first-responders, medical practitioners and nonprofit groups to react in the event of an opioid emergency. Policymakers believe putting the overdose antidote in the hands of public safety personnel and others will save lives. These support programs and other funding opportunities to increase public awareness about the pitfalls of opioid and substance abuse are posted on GrantWatch. 

Some programs that have already secured funding are touting success. Following a rapid five-year climb in the number of fatalities, outfitting first responders throughout Massachusetts with Narcan is credited with decreasing the number of opioid-related deaths in the state in 2017.The Springfield Fire Department, which serves the largest city in western Massachusetts, paid for an initial $2,000 supply of the opioid antidote through a grant program.

U.S. Surgeon Gen. Jerome Adams wants even more people to carry naloxone, but some health advocates believe the recommendation carries little weight due to the drug’s high price tag. Generic naloxone costs $20 to $40 per dose. Narcan, the nasal spray, costs $125 for a two-dose carton, according to ADAPT Pharma, the company that manufactures the drug.

That’s why lawmakers are directing more grants to not only pay for the life-saving drug, but prevention and treatment initiatives as well. And many of those efforts begin by training non-traditional first-responders how to administer Narcan.

With the help of two grants totaling more than $4 million from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Lisa Cleveland, an assistant professor at UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, has organized training sessions that have taught about 80 police officers and medical practitioners how to dispense Narcan. A second round of training is planned for later this year to verse participants including the families and friends of abusers, whom otherwise would not be considered potential life-savers but now find themselves on the front-lines.

Allies, including Chera Kowalski, have already come under fire. But, Kowalski isn’t a paramedic. She’s just a librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The branch is situated in a small park — nicknamed Needle Park for the addicts who routinely inject drugs there. In 2017 alone, Kowalski saved six lives, each after administering Narcan. Kowalski hasn’t been called into a life-saving role since, but, because of her advocacy and inspiration, her library has stepped up Narcan training for staff and has hosted education sessions for the public.

Nonprofits, small businesses, entrepreneurs and concerned citizens frustrated by the often-overwhelming process involved with searching for grants to curb substance abuse can identify funding opportunities that are easy to read and simple to comprehend at GrantWatch.com. Sign-up to receive the weekly GrantWatch newsletter which features geographic-specific funding opportunities.

About the Author: Staff Writer for GrantWatch

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