Take the class, save a life

This was not a real emergency, but an imagined scenario. We were in a conference room at Access Carroll, in Westminster, for one of the free monthly training she conducts for anyone in the community that would like to be certified in its use. The unresponsive child was actually a CPR practice dummy, but the scenario -- a child accidentally being poisoned by pain medication -- is not so outlandish, according to officials.

A child laid before me, eyes closed, skin pale, breathing shallow and unresponsive — shaking him and calling his name yielded nothing.

I took my knuckles and ground them into his breast plate, a painful sternal rub designed to wake any sleeper not incapacitated by injury or poison. It looked as if he might have swallowed his grandmother's pain medication, and with potentially fatal results.


I called 911, left my phone on speaker so as to keep my hands free and grabbed my naloxone kit from Operation Save A Life. A three-piece device, a plunger and syringe without a needle, combined with an atomizer, allow for nasal administration of the opioid drug antidote naloxone. I tilted the child's head back, placed the atomizer to his right nostril and sprayed half the dose into it just as you would a dose of Flonase. The other half went in the left nostril.

Then, I watched for signs of restored breathing, prepared to give rescue breathing if necessary.

"Very good," said Lisa Pollard, a care coordination manager at the Carroll County Health Department and a trainer with the Operation Save A Life program.

This was not a real emergency, but an imagined scenario. We were in a conference room at Access Carroll in Westminster for one of the free monthly trainings Pollard conducts for anyone in the community who would like to be certified in the use of naloxone. The unresponsive child was actually a CPR practice dummy, but the scenario — a child accidentally being poisoned by pain medication — is not so outlandish, according to Pollard.

"The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends that anyone that is prescribed opiates for any reason be prescribed naloxone," she said.

A young child could take the medication unwittingly, a person who is ill and not thinking straight might forget taking their first dose and double up, or a friend or relative who has a substance use disorder might make surreptitious use of the medication while in the bathroom — an argument, Pollard added, for not keeping any medications in the one place in your home where people can have absolute privacy.

Then there's the possibility of simply coming across someone in need of help during your work or free time. Pollard has encountered people who have overdosed in the course of her work as a nurse and at the Health Department, and so may other professionals.

"I could get a call and they might be right up the street," said Bill Kaiser, chaplain with the Hampstead Police Department.


Although he notes he is often the last responder rather than the first responder to a dangerous situation, he had come out to receive naloxone training because "you never know when you're going to need it," and he wanted to be prepared, "just in case."

Since the Health Department began offering naloxone training in 2014, 280 local law enforcement officers have been trained in the use of naloxone, according to Pollard. Deputies of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office became the first Carroll-based law enforcement officers to carry naloxone in August 2014.

In that same time, Pollard and her colleagues have also trained and certified 491 civilians to use naloxone, which is the demographic they hope to reach more.

"We really want to reach out to those people who are still actively using because they are the ones that need to have naloxone in their hands the most," she said. "If people in active use don't feel comfortable coming to a group training, we can offer one-on-one training with our [peer recovery workers] and the individual can get certified and receive a kit with naloxone for free."

Everyone who takes the free training — which lasts a little more than an hour — receives two doses of naloxone for free, and can return to Pollard to get replacement doses after use. They come in a red zipper bag along with a small card with the instructions for responding to an overdose enumerated.

That's a new development following a Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene rule change in December 2015 that allowed the distribution of naloxone at the training sessions, rather than requiring people to obtain a doctor's prescription post-training and then picking up naloxone at a pharmacy.


Another change, the good Samaritan law that went into effect Oct. 1, 2015, makes it safe for users and bystanders to use naloxone without fear of legal consequence.

For users, this means they will not be prosecuted for possession of drugs and paraphernalia if they call for help when a companion has overdosed, Pollard said. Nonusers trained in the use of naloxone "are protected from liability, just as are people giving CPR."

Those who go through the naloxone training are asked to report use of the antidote to Pollard to assist in the state's effort to gather statistics on its use, but Pollard said in practice reporting is imperfect — not everyone thinks to call after a dramatic event like an overdose. Since 2014, she has received reports of nine civilians who have rescued an overdosing person and 20 law enforcement officers.

Given that there were 161 nonfatal heroin overdoses in the first 11 months of 2016, according to Sheriff's Department statistics, this is most likely an undercount of the amount of naloxone being used to rescue people in the community.

And while Pollard is quick to point out that naloxone is merely a harm reduction tool — it is not a form of treatment for addiction — for many people it does secure the first precondition for recovery.

"Naloxone is definitely saving lives," Pollard said. "Where there's life, there's hope."


Editors note: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the phone number to call to register for naloxone training through Operation Save A Life. The correct phone number is 410-876-4800.

About this series

This is the first in a four-part series looking at heroin in the county. Stories will look at numbers of overdoses and methods used to address substance abuse in the county.

Monday: Heroin by the numbers in 2016

Tuesday: Take the class, save a life

Wednesday: Judge Fred Hecker looks to expand drug treatment court

Thursday: Arrested opportunities: Evidence-based drug treatment in jail


If you go

What: Operation Save A Life naloxone training and certification

When: 5:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month

Where: Access Carroll, 10 Distillery Drive, Westminster

Cost: Free

Call 410-876-4800 to register ahead of the training. Those that complete the short training will be issued two, free doses of the opioid drug antidote naloxone. More information available at