Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Jennifer Weiss-Burke didn’t reach her son in time.
But she hopes someone else’s loved one can be saved by Albuquerque’s decision to equip public libraries, community centers and other city buildings with the anti-overdose drug naloxone.
“I’ve seen so many lives be saved by this drug, which is completely harmless,” Weiss-Burke told reporters Monday. “You can’t screw it up.”
In a state hit hard by overdose deaths, Albuquerque city councilors agreed unanimously Monday to require adding naloxone – a drug that blocks the effects of heroin or other opioids – to first-aid kits in city buildings open to the public.
The bill was sponsored jointly by Councilors Diane Gibson and Dan Lewis. The U.S. attorney for New Mexico, Damon Martinez, also spoke in favor of the measure.
“Every life is sacred,” Gibson said, “and each life is worth saving.”
New Mexico has the second-highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country.
Martinez said an opioid overdose can afflict people from all walks of life – a high-school student recovering from a sports injury, for example, or an adult recovering from surgery.
“This epidemic affects the young and old, male and female,” he said. “It doesn’t discriminate.”
Naloxone goes by the brand-name Narcan. It can be sprayed in the nose of someone suffering an overdose.
The medication reverses the effects of heroin and similar drugs. It can’t be used to get high.
The symptoms of an opioid overdose, Weiss-Burke said, include “nodding out,” or falling asleep and being unable to wake up. In some cases, the victim may stop breathing, start foaming at the mouth or have a seizure, she said. Their lips may turn blue.
But if the person isn’t actually under the influence, spraying the drug into their nose won’t cause harm, she said.
For someone who’s high or suffering an overdose, Weiss-Burke said, it “sobers them up really fast. That person may decide that’s the last time – that they want treatment after that.”
Under the council-adopted resolution, the city will post signs and store naloxone in city facilities with public access. A city employee at each location will be trained to give the drug.
No employee, however, will have an affirmative “duty to administer naloxone under any circumstance.”
The city will also encourage social-service groups that receive city funding to keep naloxone in stock.
Lewis said he and other supporters of the legislation realize that it won’t solve the overdose crisis, but “it’s one way that we can help people.”
The bill calls for the city fire department to identify funding of at least $7,500 in its budget for the purchase of naloxone kits.
Weiss-Burke said addiction gripped her 18-year-old son, Cameron Weiss, after he used painkillers following a sports injury. He played football and wrestled at La Cueva High School.
Cameron died in his own bed, at home, after a heroin overdose – not far from the supply of naloxone kept on a table nearby.