Drug use is not a new phenomenon in America. From the “war on drugs” in the 1970s to the opioid crisis of today, combatting and preventing illegal drug use has been a monumental campaign across the country.
For many drug users, the risk of overdose can be a deadly consequence. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the number of Washingtonians who died from drug overdoses jumped by 39 percent from 2019 to 2020. In the city of Aberdeen, work is being done to try and promote awareness and educate the public on overdose.
On Wednesday, Aug. 31, Community Integrated Health Services (CIHS) hosted its first annual overdose awareness event in downtown Aberdeen.
The three-hour event, which coincided with International Overdose Awareness Day, saw more than 100 people attend and featured a number of local behavioral health agencies, such as Grays Harbor Treatment Solutions Opioid Use Disorder Program, Grays Harbor County Public Health and Summit Pacific Medical Center among others. The goal was to provide education and resources within a family-friendly environment that featured free food, T-shirts, giveaways and a bounce house.
The biggest message of the night was promoting awareness by combatting stigmas. Sarah White, a grant administrator for Willapa Behavior Health, said the issues regarding drug overdose need to be talked about more.
She said events like the one in downtown Aberdeen can provide people with an understanding of how to collectively help others in need.
“We have a lot of stigma gaps in our community regarding behavioral health, SUD (Substance Use Disorder), and OUD (Opioid Use Disorder) awareness so having this event on Overdose Awareness Day is really important for our community because it’s not talked about enough,” White said.
“We just want to advocate positive awareness that everyone encounters the struggle with addiction at some point in their life, whether it be themselves or somebody close to them.”
White went on to say that overdose is a very challenging problem in Grays Harbor County, and that she hopes this is the first of many events in the years to come.
In partnership with the Willapa Behavioral Health and the Grays Harbor Health Department, the event provided education and distribution of Fentanyl test strips and NARCAN nasal sprays from professional health officials. Demonstrations were also shown for the public to learn how to administer each of the products.
Kenneth Bangs, who serves as a registered nurse for CIHS, said access to NARCAN can be lifesaving for people who are overdosing.
“Death from overdose is something that’s just completely avoidable if you have the right tools. NARCAN is designed to work against opioids like Oxycodone, Vicodin, Fentanyl, and stuff like that. It doesn’t help for meth, but most times you don’t know what someone overdoses on. So, if you see somebody down and you’re going to intervene, the NARCAN is probably the best thing for them,” Bangs explained.
Bangs noted whenever someone decides to use NARCAN, they should first call 911 so Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel can come and provide aid if the NARCAN isn’t suitable for what drug an individual is overdosing on. He said depending on how much someone over-indulges with opioid drugs, it could potentially require more than one NARCAN nasal spray.
When asked about how many supplies of NARCAN he had available for the public, Bangs pointed out that he originally had 60 boxes of double-pack NARCAN nasal sprays and within 30 minutes was down to 12 boxes.
“A lot of people are interested in it and a lot of people have family or friends who are maybe addicts and want to ensure that they’re prepared if something happens,” Bangs said. “More importantly, I’m thrilled about how the turnout has been so early into the event.”
While this is the first year that an overdose awareness event has been provided for residents of Grays Harbor, the want and desire has existed for many years for members of the community.
Sherri Reeves, who is a resident of Aberdeen, said in her five years of being a Case Manager at CIHS, she knew the community needed a positive outreach program.
“I’ve lived in Aberdeen my whole life; I know what my community needs, and it doesn’t take a resident to see that drugs are a problem here. We just need to provide positive reinforcement and help to those who are struggling and cut down on the stigma around people with addiction,” Reeves said.
“This event wouldn’t be possible without the support and partnership of many local behavioral health agencies. A healthier community means safe communities with less crime.”