TUCSON, Ariz. — (KGUN) — Local law enforcement has said it’s tracking down exactly where the substance newly dubbed ‘rainbow fentanyl’ has popped up in Southern Arizona.
Understanding the health risk involved with the drug, the Pima County Health Department says over the last several years, one tool most people can use may save someone’s life if they’re overdosing from opioids.
Because naloxone can reverse the effects from a fentanyl overdose, the health department’s Community Mental Health and Addiction program wants to continue equipping people with free Narcan, a brand of naloxone, and the knowledge to step in during an emergency until paramedics arrive.
“You hope one dose is enough,” Mark Person said. “If it’s not, you got the second one (that comes in each box of Narcan).”
Person works as program manager overseeing the community mental health and addiction team for PCHD. Part of the educational effort, he said, is showing people how they should administer a dose of naloxone if they come across someone they fear is overdosing from fentanyl.
“We’re in a position now, where we’re really throwing everything we have at this,” Person said.
“That’s why you see us at events, handing out Narcan to people that may or may not even have an issue, and it’s because we’re trying to get it out in every nook and cranny of the community.”
Looking at Pima County’s distribution of Narcan boxes heading to partner clinics and centers: There’s an overall increase trend from month to month and in August 2022, it topped 1,100 units.
As the demand for fentanyl has increased — reflected in the data showing more overdose deaths — Pima County’s Narcan distribution year-to-year has similarly exploded. In 2021, the county gave out nearly 8,600 units. So far in 2022, it’s close to 5,800.
“We wouldn’t do that in a typical year, where we’re sending out tens of thousands of Narcan kits, because it’s expensive,” Person said, “but because of how big the issue is, that’s why you see us on social media.”
Person said the boxes of Narcan come as supplies from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
From PCHD’s office, workers can then distribute both Narcan boxes and fentanyl substance testing kits to clinics, treatment centers and groups organizing drug & pill return events.
The key takeaway here, Person said, is both items are free for a person to take home.
The target groups in this campaign, he added, are people whose loved ones and friends may be struggling with substance abuse, and also the very population of patients suffering from addiction.
“If that Narcan does revive the person temporarily, then you bought them a lot of time,” Person said. “Then, the first responders get there, take it over and get them in the ambulance and get to the hospital.”
Person and his professional colleagues reiterated that naloxone will only work against overdoses caused by opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone or heroin. Person also said the medication, for all its benefits, still only serves as a ‘band-aid’ to cover the main problem. Currently, the best ways to help someone break a fentanyl addiction would be through treatment, counseling and methadone clinics.
In emergency situations, you may recognize signs a person is overdosing:
- They are unresponsive
- They’re not breathing or they’re taking shallow breaths
PCHD said the best thing to do, knowing you have Narcan in your possession, is to step in, follow the instructions on the box, administer the drug and call 911.
If you have additional training, give the person chest compressions to keep their blood flowing.
José Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska where he covered issues ranging from local, state and federal elections, to toxic chemical spills, and community programs impacting immigrant families. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.