Red Cross: Opioid Overdose Awareness: March 2019

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by Melissa LaScaleia

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with opioids being the number one cause of those deaths.  In South Carolina, the number of opioid overdoses has increased three consecutive years in a row.  According to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, 57 people died in 2014 of a heroin-involved overdose.  616 people died from an opioid overdose in 2016, and in 2017, that number rose to 748. 

In response, the American Red Cross launched a First Aid for Opioid Overdose course in November 2018.  This information is particularly important for those in Horry County as drug overdoses in South Carolina continue to increase. 

“The statistics emphasize the importance of the Red Cross to be in those communities to offer this education and show people what to do in the event that they are around someone experiencing this overdose,” says Cuthbert Langley, Director of Communications for the Palmetto SC region. 

The 45-minute online course is a combination of audio and video components that helps people to identify the signs of opioid overdose, so they can spot what the problem is, and secondly, how to care for the person who has overdosed. 

It shows how to administer Narcan, a nasal spray that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and brings the person to consciousness.  It’s available from a pharmacist directly without a prescription. 

Because an opioid overdose can lead to cardiac arrest, the Red Cross encourages people to take a CPR and AED course (also available through Red Cross). 

In North Carolina, during hurricane Florence, an individual in one of the shelters was going through an opioid overdose, and a Red Cross volunteer was able to save their life because of this training. 

“It’s important for people to know that we’re working to support the military, to prevent home fires, and to collect blood, but it’s also important for people to know that the Red Cross is there to empower communities with lifesaving information,” says Cuthbert. 

On a national level, the Red Cross is working with the White House to address the mounting opioid epidemic.  The president of the training services division was invited along with twenty-one other organizations like pharmaceutical and insurance companies, to an opioids event at the White House late last year to brainstorm ideas and solutions to help.  The American Red Cross spoke about their course and what they have planned to try to address what is a public health crisis. 

Amazon was present, showing how they programmed Alexa to answer questions about opioids and opioid overdose.  Google is working with Walgreens to show on maps where people can safely dispose of unused prescription medications thereby preventing them from falling into the hands of recreational drug users. 

“We want to be at the table and part of the conversation to help alleviate human suffering and the opioid overdose is part of that,” says Cuthbert. 

Visit www.redcross.org to take the Opioid Overdose Course, sign up for CPR, AED, and visit the many other courses the Red Cross teaches as part of their well-rounded training platform.

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