12/7/16: Needle Safety and Overdose Education

At this incubator meeting, we had the pleasure of having Brita Loftus and Jill Shanahan from Tapestry Health come in and speak about their needle exchange and Narcan distribution services. Tapestry Health has needle exchange locations in Holyoke and Northampton, and they also do street outreach and distribution in Holyoke. These programs are open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4 PM, and primarily serve individuals who are currently using drugs intravenously. Tapestry provides free, new, sterile needles, as well as other supplies such as bleach, sterile water, alcohol wipes, and cotton. Brita and Jill explained that it is important to use a new needle each time a person uses intravenous drugs, and it is important to never share needles, because this can result in issues like HIV, Hepatitis C, abscesses, tissue infections, and collapsed veins. And, due to lack of access, the majority of intravenous drug users share needles and use their needles several times.

            Brita and Jill explained that while it may seem counterintuitive to provide drug users with the tools they need to use drugs, this practice is actually hugely beneficial. There are a large number of drug users who are simply not ready to start using yet, and there are not many programs that reduce harm for these active users. Additionally, Tapestry will help individuals access treatment when they decide they want it. Often, Tapestry is the only link that an individual will have to healthcare. As a result of this, individuals who use needle exchanges are actually five times more likely to go to treatment than those who don’t.
            Next, Brita and Jill spoke about Tapestry’s Narcan distribution program. Narcan is an opiate antagonist, which means that when given to someone who is overdosing, it rips the heroin off of the opiate receptors in their brain, re-starting their breathing. Narcan can save the life of an individual who is overdosing who would otherwise most likely not survive. Brita and Jill explained that while you can get a prescription for Narcan at a pharmacy, it will be expensive, and that Tapestry actually distributes Narcan for free.

            Tapestry works to educate the community about overdose risks and prevention, and about how to use Narcan to reverse overdose, distributing Narcan in places like halfway houses, where people are the most vulnerable to overdose. Brita and Jill explained that some of the biggest risks to overdose include mixing drugs, low tolerance due to a period of abstinence, purity of the drug, and using alone. At Tapestry, when a person comes in to get Narcan, they will be educated about these risks and about how to use Narcan, and they have the opportunity to speak to a staff member and create a harm-reduction plan for themselves to try and prevent an overdose. This allows people who are still actively using to come up with a plan for how to stay as safe as possible without using.

            At the close of their presentation, Brita and Jill stressed how important it is to alwayscall 911 when someone is overdosing. In Massachusetts, there is a Good Samaritan Law that states that a person who calls 911 about an overdose cannot be prosecuted for criminal charges, and so people should not be scared to call 911 for fear of getting in trouble. Brita and Jill stressed that this small action could save a life, and that that is always worthwhile. We would like to thank Brita, Jill, and Tapestry Health for their wonderful presentation!