Editorial: Useful response to opioid crisis

  • Cherry Sullivan, program coordinator for the Hampshire HOPE coalition, speaks June 26 during a free training in Northampton for business owners, managers and employees about how to administer naloxone, which is sued to help save the lives of opioid overdose victims. Northampton Drug Addiction Response Team officer Adam Van Buskirk watches from behind. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 7/16/2018 7:34:08 PM

As the opioid epidemic continues to affect all sectors of society, local businesses are seeking help in better understanding how to respond. Locally, the regional coalition Hampshire HOPE and Florence-based Tapestry Health Systems, helped provide some answers last month.

On June 26, those organizations, along with the Northampton Public Health Department and Drug Addiction Response Team, sponsored a free training for business owners, managers and employees on how to administer the life-saving overdose medicine naloxone, often known by the brand name Narcan. They also learned how to pick up and dispose of sharp objects like syringes and to identify and properly dispose of the packaging often associated with heroin.

Personnel from several local restaurants participated.

According to Northampton Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary, the training was prompted, in part, by local businesses reporting that they are being affected by the opioid crisis. Issues include some employees or their relatives struggling with opioid use disorder, which affects them at work, or encountering an overdose in the workplace, she said.

Representatives of the businesses who attended the session confirmed that the opioid crisis is very real for them. Mariha Griffin, an employee at Haymarket Cafe on Main Street in Northampton, said there are people who frequent the restaurant who are “potential, current or former users” and she was grateful for the training. “Having Narcan there is really helpful.”

Eliseth Martin, general manager of Burger King on King Street in Northampton, said one issue at her business is finding used syringes in the parking lot or trash.

Questions such as how long to wait before knocking on a bathroom door when someone is suspected of using opioids, and possibly overdosing, were among the topics of discussion. For Starbucks barista Pat Leyden, it has become possible for cafe workers to sometimes identify behavioral changes in customers because, as he put it, “we do have relationships with them.”

Those attending the training received practical advice and specific instruction, including recognizing and responding to overdoses, how Narcan works and how to administer it.

Employees were told that if they encounter someone experiencing an overdose, they should call 911, give the victim rescue breaths, administer naloxone, place the victim in a recovery position and stay with the person.

People who attended the training also received information about the history and public-health benefits of needle access programs and the increased danger from the rise of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which are contributing to the spike in overdose deaths across the country.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the number of opioid overdose deaths nationally increased from 22,598 in 2015 to 32,445 in 2016.

The training had another important component: fostering a community conversation about the impact of substance-use disorder on businesses. As Hampshire County continues to see a rise in overdoses, greater awareness of the opioid crisis is critical to an effective response. Cherry Sullivan, the program coordinator for Hampshire HOPE, a coalition of organizations addressing the opioid crisis, said that “every sector of the community has a role to play in this.”

“We want (local workers) to feel supported, we want to know what they need and we want to hear their ideas … they are the people forming relationships and those relationships matter,” Sullivan said.

We commend Hampshire HOPE, Tapestry and the city of Northampton for responding to the needs of businesses by providing educational outreach as they grapple with the opioid epidemic in the workplace. The end result is that when a customer is found nodding off in a bathroom or a worker finds a used syringe in the trash, employees will have the tools and knowledge to effectively respond.

We encourage additional training sessions for area businesses and urge employers to take advantage of them. Hampshire County is home to thousands of employees working on the front lines in the service industry, and the sad reality is that they must be well-equipped to identify and respond to victims of the opioid crisis.


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