Maya Chandra

The School of Public Health hosted a panel followed by a workshop on Wednesday to educate the community about drug overdoses and to teach participants how to administer the life-saving anti-opioid drug naloxone.

Around 100 people packed 47 College St. for the event, which was advertised as an opportunity for nonmedical professionals to learn how to recognize and respond to an overdose. Molly Doernberg SPH ’19, director of the Addiction Medicine Collaborative at the School of Public Health, kicked off the workshop with a brief overview of opioid usage and overdose. Doernberg delved into the mechanics of an overdose, stressing that anyone, not just health care professionals, can help someone in the middle of an overdose.

“The most harmful way you can respond to an overdose is to abandon the person because then they don’t have a chance,” Doernberg said.

Throughout the event, two registered pharmacists were on hand to fill out naloxone prescriptions for those interested.

Participants interviewed said they appreciated that Doernberg explained what overdoses look like and how to respond to one. Ice baths and black coffee might be toted as cures for an overdose, but they are likely to do more harm than good, Doernberg said. Naloxone, on the other hand, can save a life in the event of an overdose and do not cause any harm — regardless of whether or not the individual has actually taken opioids.

Melanie Zheng MED ’21 told the News that she appreciated the way the organizers cleared up common misconceptions about opioids and naloxone. The drug is not a permanent cure, but it can give someone who overdoses time to seek other medical attention.

“I feel like in medical school we have talked about the opioid crisis a lot, but a lot of the problems of the opioid crisis are addressed top-down,” Zheng said. “This [training] is a very tangible way you can address the issue.”

After the initial talk, participants broke into groups to go over three case studies describing people who are using opioids. Participants identified homelessness, multidrug use and lowered tolerance as risk factors for an overdose.

After a brief discussion, organizers in the room handed out three different devices that administer naloxone. These varied from a small injector to a nasal applicator. While the drug, which temporarily reverses the effects of all opioids, is not currently available free of cost or over the counter, recent legislation has enabled any community pharmacist to prescribe it, said Tamara Malm, a pharmacist at the University of Saint Joseph School of Pharmacy. In fact, all insurance providers in Connecticut are required to cover some form of naloxone, she continued.

In the past few weeks, the city of New Haven has grappled with the impact of the chain of drug overdoses on the New Haven Green on Aug. 16. Officials determined that K2, a synthetic cannabinoid, was responsible for the public health crisis.

Julie Sklar SPH ’20 decided to come to the event after hearing about the mass overdose on the Green.

“I was really excited that this workshop was really hands-on and that we practiced administering three different kinds of naloxone,” Sklar said. “If there’s anything I can actively do as a new New Haven community member, I want to do my part.”

In the weeks since the mass overdose, the School of Public Health has sought to draw more public attention to drug crises at large through the lens of how ordinary people can address drug use in their own communities. Yesterday’s event was one of several discussions that have been held on the topic in the past week alone.

Narcan is the brand name for one type of device that delivers naloxone.

Maya Chandra |