If you saw someone overdosing and had a way to save them, how far would you go?Across the country, someone dies of an opioid overdose every 24 minutes. In Massachusetts, the death toll is five people every day. In the face of the national epidemic, especially deadly in New England, Cambridge may be the first city to place lockboxes on street corners to give the public easy access to Narcan, a medication that can rapidly revive people who have overdosed.
While implementation is at least a year away, officials are conducting tests to determine the program’s effectiveness. Recently, Cambridge police and area doctors who support the boxes conducted an experiment, asking people just walking by if they would help a stranger who had overdosed. The officials placed a dummy on the ground on a brick plaza along busy Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, between two of this city’s most druginfested areas. Random people were asked to pretend they had just found an unconscious person, then handed a cellphone, which was connected to someone acting as an emergency dispatcher. The dispatcher directed them to a nearby lockbox, gave them a code to open it and then explained how to administer Narcan, a nasal spray. Doctors say Narcan is safe. Even if given to someone who has not overdosed, it does no harm. It is not addictive and cannot be abused.
“We want to see if regular people walking down the street would be willing to help someone who appeared to be overdosing,” said Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of emergency services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who oversaw the experiment. “And if they were willing to help, would they be able to help?”
As it turned out, dozens of people agreed to participate in the experiment. Here’s what some of them said: ‘I did it with a baby strapped to me’ Shirley Poyau, Doctoral student in clinical psychology, who walked by and joined the experiment even though Lucy, her 7 month old daughter, was strapped to her chest “I’m not a vigilante, and I’m not some hero, but if someone looks unresponsive on the street, I always make sure, at a minimum, to call 911. I’m not the type of person who ever just walks by. Sure, I would be concerned about mouth to mouth. But using Narcan, there was nothing complicated about it. I did it with a baby strapped to me. It’s how I eat and even shower — you have to do it all with a baby strapped to you.”
“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” said Sgt. Louis F. Cherubino Jr., Supervisor of the Cambridge Police Department’s special investigations unit for drugs and vice crimes. “This is a crisis of epidemic proportions. It’s worse now because of the advent of the fentanyl, which is much faster acting than heroin and has a greater propensity for overdose and death. Do you let people just fall and succumb to the illness, or do you help them? If we can save one life, we’ve done our job. This box would provide a quicker response before police or E.M.S. could get on the scene, so I think it’s a positive step.”
Louis A. DePasquale, Cambridge City Manager stated, “Like so many communities in Massachusetts, Cambridge is experiencing and actively responding to the opioid crisis. Because the prototype boxes would allow bystanders to administer lifesaving Narcan to overdose victims before the arrival of EMS, they have the potential of saving lives.”