It was late on a Friday night and somewhere in Auburn another drug overdose was underway. 

I don’t know if it was man or woman, this time, or if the victim was young or old. All I knew for sure was that the first responder from the Fire Department had administered Narcan and the victim was likely to survive. 

I moved on. The police scanner continued to sing its Friday night songs – a bar fight here, a car wreck there and a dozen domestic squabbles in between. Same old, same old. Rinse and repeat. 

I called it a night. 

There was a time not long ago when a report of an overdose in progress would have had the newsroom jumping. Overdose was relatively rare back then, or at least rare enough to warrant a brief in the local section. 

But then opiates made a comeback. Heroin was all the rage again and a new player named fentanyl came on the scene. Now, so many reports of overdose come sizzling across the airwaves that no newspaper anywhere — not even the big ones — could possibly report them all. 

The overdose became the drug world equivalent of the fender bender — they happen every day, in all corners of your city or town, and after a while, each OD looks like the one before it.  

You can thank Narcan for that, somewhat. With the medication available to anyone, anywhere, these days, your chances of surviving that new batch of dope are pretty good. If your party brothers don’t have a kit with them, the paramedics will. Or the first police officer on the scene or the firefighter right behind him. 

Naloxone has been around since the 1960s, but it’s only recently gained its reputation as The Lazarus Drug — a true raiser of the dead. Narcan has become available enough that going flatline doesn’t necessarily mean the party is over. Overdose early in the evening and there’s still a good chance you’ll be back at home with your rig come midnight if someone is close enough to hit you with the nasal spray. 

You wouldn’t be wrong to deem it a miracle drug, but don’t expect the whole world to join you in applause. Narcan, while its life-saving properties are undisputed, is the kind of heroic wonder drug that gets as much scorn as it does praise. 

“How many chances are these junkies going to get?” is a popular comment on any news about overdose and revival. 

A while ago, I spent considerable time talking to dope users, medics and cops about the marvels and misunderstandings of Narcan. Included in that list was a 20-something woman who had made the grim climb from pills, to snorting and ultimately to injecting heroin. The young lady, very frank about her experiences, told me about the first time she was saved by Narcan — at a Halloween party during which she frequently sneaked off to the bathroom to shoot up. 

“I remember setting everything up, almost like a ceremony,” she told me, “and then pulling the trigger. Then . . . nothing. The next thing I remember is EMTs and police hovering over me. It was like I was coming through a tunnel — a small pinpoint of light until it was full circle. I remember friends crying. I was soaked from head to toe and my breast plate felt as if someone had stomped on my chest. It was a shock, not knowing what was going on, feeling like I had skipped over time like nothing. I was confused, disoriented, sick, drunk, high — basically every emotion at once. “ 

That she was around to tell me this story is a marvel. She was all alone when she went into that bathroom, after all, and all of her party mates were off seeking their own thrills. Given a different turn of circumstances, this is a young lady that might have died right down there on the floor with only the bathroom scale and shower mat to see her off. 

“According to friends, they realized that I had been gone for more then 20 minutes and were wondering where I was,” she said. “When I wouldn’t respond to their knocks and slamming on the door, another friend broke down the door. I was on the floor, blue in the face, not breathing. They threw me into the bathtub trying to wake me up.” 

It was her good fortune that one of her party mates was a trained medic who performed CPR until the rescue crews arrived with the life-restoring magic of Narcan in hand. Like so many others in the Narcan Club, what should have been certain death was instead just a temporary setback.  

Of course, this is a young woman who had never expected to be the one turning blue on a bathroom floor at all. Before she had been introduced to prescription painkillers a few years prior, she was more or less a clean-living, all-American kid. Heroin? That’s the stuff of ghettos, isn’t it? 

“Ten years ago, I would have told you a junkie is someone who’s shooting up under a bridge, who’s homeless, who smells, who wasn’t worthy of this life,” she told me. “But the truth was, I was uneducated about addiction. Addictions are sharks circling their prey, where the prey in the middle becomes so weak, it gives up. It could be anyone now. It’s crept its way into suburban life.” 

You’d be surprised, frankly, by the range of people who have been on either the giving or receiving end of the Narcan applicator. There are soccer moms who keep a supply in their purses just in case, and plenty of church-going folk, as well. 

For police and other first responders, it’s not just a good idea, it’s an obligation, and they carry it whether they want to or not. 

“I know how fed up cops, EMTs and a lot of people are with it,” the young lady said of the omnipresence of Narcan. “But it’s absolutely necessary.” 

She might be surprised — not all cops are opposed to adding Narcan to their kits. Although there are plenty who believe that addicts are emboldened by the presence of Narcan – and possibly less likely to get off the dope because of it – at least one police officer I talked to went the other way. 

This cop knew personally people who had been revived multiple times with Narcan. One of them, he said, had been returned from the black embrace of opiates more than 10 times – and that person STILL continued to play the game of street drug roulette. 

Yet this cop had no misgivings about administering Narcan whenever the situation called for it. He compared it to trying to save the life of a drunk driver who slammed into a tree, or a gangster cut down in a drive-by shooting. 

Hate the sin, in other words, but love the sinner. 

“Life is precious and people make terrible choices,” he said. “But if I have the ability to give them a second chance — or even 10th chance — well, that is someone’s baby, someone’s Momma, someone’s Daddy. It would be selfish to deny them that chance. 

“We’re all humans,” the cop said, “and if you can save someone’s life, I’d like to think everyone would do everything they could.” 

It’s a nice sentiment and a horrifically ironic one: The cop who told me all these things? Lewiston Police Officer Nick Meserve who, six months later, would die of an overdose with nobody there to save him. 

Narcan is a miraculous medication, no doubt about it. By this point, I imagine there are millions of addicts who owe there lives to the contents of that pink and white box. Its power is almost mystical. It’s the power of resurrection. 

But I tell you this: The true miracle still eludes us. Until some white-coated brainiac in a lab concocts a way to completely dismantle the human lust for opium, that scanner is going to keep on crackling with overdose calls. Another day, another Code 99 on Bartlett Street. On Main Street. In that upscale neighborhood off Buttonwood Lane. 

Every night those calls keep coming and from all corners of the community. It’s a fact of life now, so commonplace we’ve become inured to the scourge around us. Narcan has taken so much drama out of the overdose that we barely even notice anymore. 

For that, I suppose, it would be reasonable to both love and hate it. 


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