“Currently, you are more likely to administer naloxone in a public place than you are to administer CPR.”

Clockwise from top left: Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-KY-28), Lt. Patrick Glynn (MA), Overdose Lifeline’s Justin Phillips and Shatterproof’s Kevin Roy discuss the important role of community members in saving lives from overdose.

Every second counts when it comes to an overdose – and one second could mean the difference between life or death.

This month, the U.S. reached a grim, yet unfortunately predictable, milestone in our fight against the worsening opioid crisis: latest CDC provisional data reports that predicted deaths from opioid overdose surpassed 100,000 in the one-year period ending April 2021, the highest figure ever recorded. Amid COVID-19 and related restrictions, individuals continue to experience increased isolation, financial stress and uncertainty – all affecting mental health states and creating a challenging environment that can potentially trigger relapse and substance use.

So, in light of this devastating 6-figure number of deaths from a treatable disease of the brain, how can we empower community members and better equip them with the necessary tools to help save lives on the frontlines of the opioid crisis?

Last week, we assembled four leading experts bringing different geographic and occupational perspectives to discuss the ever-important role of bystanders, local communities, and first responders in reversing the tragic trajectory of the opioid crisis. Panelists included:

The panel emphasized how the opioid crisis is a constantly evolving public health issue in need of constant community education and intervention, in addition to policy change. Fentanyl is flooding communities and being laced into other drugs, often unbeknownst to the user. Strong illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl are altering the lifecycle of an overdose in a way that we need to better understand – shortening the window of rescue and putting each second of an overdose more at stake than ever before.

How do we then reduce the stigma of carrying an overdose reversal agent? Opioid antagonists are a critical tool for the public, police, and other community first responders, who can administer treatment before calling 911 while awaiting the help of a trained medical emergency team. Everyone who may witness or be first to witness an opioid overdose should have access to FDA-approved opioid overdose reversal medications, liability protections, and to feel confident using them during an emergency.

The following important notions and solutions, among many, were highlighted during the panel:

“Connection is the antidote, and we lost our connection. And that’s just the truth.”

“As the former Surgeon General said one day, currently you are more likely to administer naloxone in a public place than you are to administer CPR. We all need to be really willing to do this life saving first aid. It’s just first aid in a medical emergency.”

“If you’re not sure where to start, health departments, emergency rooms, law enforcement, and universities are easy ways. They can point you in directions of where to assist, where to help, how to learn, and to teach others how to do these things.”

“If we treat this [substance use disorder] as a disease, as opposed to a criminal situation, we’re going to be in much better shape going forward. And hopefully, we can reduce, I’d love to eliminate, but at least we can reduce that stigma.”

There has never been a time where the stakes are so high, and the drugs are so strong. We must educate and empower everyone about the individual role they can play in saving lives from overdose.

To learn more, you can watch a full recording of the panel on YouTube.