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A Scene that Haunts Me Still

Yesterday’s front page article in our local paper, the Corvallis Gazette Times, reminded me of a story I’ve been meaning to tell. The headline reads “Corvallis police pack antidote to opioids.” The picture features a friendly looking police officer holding up a package of Narcan, and the article is upbeat about what this will mean in terms of lives saved from opioid overdoses in our town. Narcan (naloxone) instantly counters the effects of opioids and can miraculously revive a person just moments from death.

Now, to backtrack. A few weeks ago I flew to California to hang out with my old childhood friend at her oceanfront home in Santa Cruz. This is not Instagram or Facebook, so I’m not into posting vacation pictures in hopes of inciting envy. Hey look! I’m logging time in prettier places than you are! So I’ll just say it was lovely and only one final incident was negative and relevant to what I sometimes write about here concerning drug addiction.

On the way to the San Jose airport to fly home, we stopped at one of those huge malls. Right outside Nordstrom, as we approached, a young woman was absolutely freaking out. Three or four people were trying to restrain her, and others were watching from a distance, what I like to think hopefully of as respectful witness rather than just maudlin gawking.

“I said no Narcan!” I heard her scream. Or something like that. Something against Narcan, and the name of the drug I heard clearly.

I was one of the people who walked right past into the store, and would have looked to anyone watching like someone who couldn’t be deterred from shopping to show concern for a fellow human being. But that’s not what was going on in my head.

I wonder if maybe I was in a better position than the others present to have a feeling for what this woman was going through. “Take it easy,” the men who restrained her were saying. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Well, no it wasn’t. This was not somebody overdosing. This was somebody who’d been jerked back from death and into instant opioid withdrawal. Narcan works by instantly pulling all the opioids from the brain’s opioid receptors. What I suffered over the course of months in coming off of Oxycodone, this poor soul was experiencing in an instant. The intensity of her physical and mental anguish haunts me still.

When we came out of the mall—we weren’t in there long, and since I hate malls, I don’t know what possessed me to agree to this last stop in the first place—an ambulance was parked there, presumably with this woman aboard.

There’s so much controversy about Narcan. In towns like ours, everybody’s feeling pleased that they’ll be able to save lives. In towns where the same people get saved over and over, only to shoot up again, patience and the good feeling of doing the right thing begin to wear thin.

But here’s the thing—unless they get that young woman to some sort of a rehab place right now, she WILL shoot up again. It will look to the outside world like just the stupidest decision ever after these nice people saved her, right? But after my own experiences, I see it differently. Any human in such physical and psychological distress will be thinking of only one thing—how to get out of it. And the most immediate way is a hit of opioids. Their brains are highjacked. This is not a moral decision. Unless the person is rather forcibly cared for without a chance of finding relief from agony by using again, yes, they will use. Addicts will be revived over and over until finally they overdose when no rescue Narcan is at hand.

Treatment. Loving, non-judgmental treatment. That’s what’s needed. Expecting somebody in this position to somehow get a grip on themselves is absolutely futile.

I wish somebody would read this and tell me they know who that woman was and that she’s clean now and on the road to well. Because I can’t forget her agonized cries.

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