Narcan Saved A Life: Opioids and HIV

Last updated: March 2021

One weekend, while conducting local free mobile HIV testing, my worst fear came true. A pedestrian near the site overdosed, right in front of my eyes.

Luckily, I had received training on Narcan (Naloxone HCl) from our local Health Department and had Narcan in my possession. Narcan, for use in the nose, is used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency.1 Narcan saves lives!

Real life use of Narcan

When I realized that he had overdosed, I moved quickly. I grabbed Narcan and a pair of nonlatex gloves. His girlfriend was hysterical, she beat his chest, screaming, “Mi Amor! Mi Amor! Come back to me. Don’t go!” Another pedestrian stopped, they too had Narcan in hand since overdoses seem to be a regular occurrence in this section of the city. I quickly administered one dose of Narcan, nasally, as we waited for him to regain consciousness. The other pedestrian waited 2-3 minutes and administered a second dose of Narcan, which is in line with Narcan dosing protocol.1

In need of a second dose

The second dose did the trick and he shot up from the ground, alert as ever! He immediately began crying profusely and hugged his partner as tight as he could. He realized that he almost died from an opioid overdose. I was surprisingly calm, as I performed my first Narcan dosing and literally saving someone’s life from an overdose.

Injection drug use and HIV transmission risk

On the same day that I administered lifesaving Narcan to a pedestrian, I also gave a young woman a preliminary HIV positive result. A preliminary HIV-positive rapid result means that a blood-based HIV confirmatory test is needed. She mentioned that she “knew this would happen!” She had engaged in unprotected commercial sex work, as well as sharing needles while injecting heroin. People who inject drugs (PWIDs) are at a heightened risk of contracting HIV.

Such a striking young woman of color with piercing hazel eyes, with nowhere to call home. She wore the pain and agony of a challenging life, living day to day, making ends meet by engaging in survival and commercial sex work. My heart ached as tears rolled down her cheek, after receiving such painful news. She wiped away her tears and exhaled a sigh of acceptance of her status. She had one question, “Can I transmit HIV to my clients?” she asked, wondering if her result would impact her ability to earn money and share needles.

Being active in addiction changes priorities

I counseled her on harm reduction strategies to reduce her own risk and risk to her partners, by engaging in safer sexual intercourse as well as locally available needle exchange programs. I contacted our health care center and she received an appointment. Unfortunately, she never came in for care. Her story would, unfortunately, become common amongst PWID who are active in their addiction. Heroin addiction quickly becomes the overarching priority in many of their lives.

Starting the recovery process

If someone is interested or ready to begin the process of recovery from drugs and alcohol use, effective long- and short-term treatment is available. Recovery for PWIDs is often a challenging and long road. Recovery resources can be found by visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and also information about syringe exchange programs at the North American Syringe Exchange Network.3,4

Knowing your status

Getting tested will help PWIDs know their HIV status, start treatment if diagnosed as HIV positive, and hopefully become undetectable. It will also empower you to protect your immune health, the health of your sexual partners, and our local communities! The easiest and fastest way (only 60 seconds with some HIV tests) to protect yourself and your community is to get tested! HIV and STI testing are often free or low cost.

To locate your nearest HIV testing, PrEP, PEP, and HIV care provider near you, visit AIDSVu.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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