The difference between life and death

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David Benson/ Tonya Ahern of Upper Township shows the two types of naloxone available, a nasal spray and an injection. David Benson/ Tonya Ahern of Upper Township shows the two types of naloxone available, a nasal spray and an injection. Parents group seeks overdose antidote, training

A matter of minutes could mean the difference between life and death for an overdose victim.

That’s the thinking of Tonya Ahern, an Upper Township woman who works with Parent to Parent, a support group for parents of individuals suffering from addiction.

Ahern, who has a 22-year-old son in recovery, says police and EMTs aren’t the only ones looking to have access to naloxone, the opiate overdose antidote.

“There are so many overdoses, and they are dying so fast that the sooner we can get to them, the better the chances,” Ahern said.

Parent to Parent, which provides support for the parents of those suffering from addictions and works with state legislators on combating addiction, has worked with the South Jersey AIDS Alliance to provide training to members of the public to administer naloxone. According to Ahern, the alliance has received a grant to provide the training and the antidote to those who need it.

Already, allowing the public to administer the antidote has saved lives, Ahern said. She told the story of a Mays Landing woman who revived her daughter with naloxone when she was overdosing.

“She called 911, and it took them 25 minutes to respond,” Ahern said. “Her daughter would have been dead.”

Naloxone is the generic version of Narcan, which was developed in the 1960s. One version, which police in Ocean County have been trained to use, works like a nasal spray. It can also be injected with a needle.

Training for members of the public includes teaching them how to identify if someone is overdosing, how to use the antidote, and to always call 911 when someone is victim to a drug overdose.

While most of the focus recently has been on law enforcement and emergency personnel receiving training to carry and administer naloxone, the Overdose Protection Act eliminated legal action against health care professionals or bystanders who administer overdose antidotes in live saving situations. It was passed in May of 2013, and also included protections for those who were in violation of the law while attempting to help an overdose victim, such as by calling 911.

Ahern said that many parents of addicts are seeking out the training and antidote, but she thinks that those looking to get clean or in recovery should be attending as well.

“It’s a disease,” she said. “Someone may make the first choice to try a drug, but nobody makes the choice to be an addict.”

In Cape May County, police chiefs have taken the initial steps to allow all local law enforcement to carry and administer the antidote. According to the prosecutor’s office, there have been 56 drug overdoses this year in Cape May County, three of which have been fatal. Last year, there were 106 overdoses total, meaning that the number of overdoses in 2014 is rising.

The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office announced on Friday, April 11 that the Chiefs of Police Association voted to support the use of Narcan by all local police departments in the county, the sheriff’s department, and prosecutor’s office.

Now, the action must be approved by the state’s acting attorney general, the office said.

A policy is being drafted that will include training guidelines for officers, the prosecutor’s office said. Two detectives from that office are being sent to train at the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, after which they will be approved to train all Cape May County officers.

Prosecutor Robert Taylor said that the Narcan doses cost about $25, and the equipment costs about $25 per officer. His office’s drug forfeiture fund will cover those costs.

To Ahern, that’s well worth the cost of saving a life.

“I think everybody is worth it,” she said.

Email Christie Rotondo at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or comment on this story below. 

Naloxone is a heroin overdose antidote. Naloxone is a heroin overdose antidote.


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