Deaths from drug-related overdoses have soared in recent years in the United States. With opioid use common among a segment of the population The Night Ministry serves, the agency is often on the front lines in efforts to save lives by preventing overdose deaths among Chicagoans who are unhoused.
Naloxone, a non-addictive medication that can reverse an overdose by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain, helps makes this work possible. The Illinois Department of Public Health provides The Night Ministry with naloxone, at no cost, in the form of the Narcan nasal spray, a delivery system which makes it easy and safe for those who are not medical providers to administer.
Staff with The Night Ministry's Health Outreach Program, which brings health care and supportive services directly to individuals where they live, carry Narcan with them during outreach, to administer if they encounter an individual who is experiencing an overdose. And because a prescription is not required for the medication, they distribute it to clients in case someone they know overdoses.
Substance Use Specialist Yoela Tepper has administered Narcan numerous times on unhoused individuals and trains clients on how to use it. "The great thing about Narcan is that it is accessible to anybody. It's so much easier than people think. If you are the one administering the first dose of Narcan, you are increasing an overdosing person's chance of survival by so much," Tepper shared.
The provision of Narcan to unhoused people is an important component in The Night Ministry's harm reduction strategies, which focus on keeping those who use drugs alive and as safe as possible and also include the offering of clean needles and facilitating access to treatment. Harm reduction is a key pillar in the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services' plan to address the nation's opioid-related overdose crisis.
"Getting as much Narcan as we can into the hands of folks who may need it is probably one of the most significant things that we do," said Mary Poliwka, Community Health Manager.
Over the course of a year, The Night Ministry distributed 3,925 Narcan spray units.
"We know that people are using it and it's working," said Poliwka.
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