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Helene Lawrence

Narcan saved this former addict twice in one day but is naloxone the answer to the opioid crisis?


Helene Lawrence has overdosed and been revived by Narcan nine times.

“There was actually a couple of times I was Narcanned and took to the hospital, came back out, two hours later Narcanned again," said Lawrence.

Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, a medication used to revive someone who overdosed on opioids.

"At that time, there wasn't help asked. There wasn't help presented to me, so they just shipped me on my way after they thought I was okay and the Narcan wore off,” she said.

Lawrence lives in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where there has been over 1,200 overdoses reversed with Narcan by law enforcement officers since late 2014, according to the county’s district attorney, the most of any county in the state.

But according to law enforcement officials in the county, Narcan might be saving lives in the moment, but it is not making a dent in the community’s drug crisis.

“I can't tell you how many times at 10 o'clock in the morning we've saved somebody's life, and then we arrest him at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Or they OD'ed again at 2 o'clock in the afternoon,” said Mike Chitwood, Upper Darby Police superintendent.

Upper Darby borders West Philadelphia in Delaware County and contributed to about one-third of the county's Narcan saves, according to Chitwood

“I have some officers that have used NARCAN and saved lives a dozen times,” Chitwood said.

“But on the other hand, I don't believe that once we save their life, the treatment is there," he said.

Lawrence said after her overdoses, there were no resources or treatment options offered to her.

“When your Narcanned in the hospital, they just send you right back out. There's nobody that actually comes in and says we have other options for you. Do you want treatment? Do you want this? Do you want to get help? None of that. They consider you a junkie and they throw you back out on the streets,” Lawrence said.

But Brian Corson, a recovering addict and founder of sober living community MVP Recovery in Delaware County, said Narcan is a pivotal tool to keep addicts alive so one day they can receive treatment.

“Narcan does not solve the problem, but it helps saves lives so then we can give the resources to enhance lives, because that's what recovery is about,” Corson said.

The lack of resources in the community for recovering addicts trying to stay clean prompted Corson to found MVP.

“As far as a reduction in use, a reduction in death, a reduction in overdose? No. But an increase in resources, an increasing in awareness, an increase in services? That I've seen immensely with working in the field for the last 10 years,” Corson said.

Corson said he understands the frustration of those who have not seen services like Narcan impact the crisis in a positive way, but pleads with people to stay patient.

“This is a long-term problem, and there is no short-term solution. There's things that have been put in place the last few years that we still will not see results for until another five years, but they're being put in place,” Corson said.

And the county has also recognized the need for additional resources for addicts after an overdose, which is what led to the beginning of the Certified Recovery Specialist Program, said Katayoun Copeland, Delaware County district attorney and chairperson of the county’s heroin task force.

“An individual who, him or herself, has previously been in recovery. Someone who is in sustained recovery, and who can speak to that individual who has just overdosed about they have been in their shoes before. They know what it's like, and they can help them connect them to treatment resources,” said Copeland.

Copeland said there are now 13 certified recovery specialists who have been trained in the county, and the task force is also pushing to make changes on the state level.

“We have worked with our legislature, and they have proposed legislation, which is currently pending in-house about requiring people who have been provided with Narcan to at least seek treatment. Not that they have to go, but they have to listen to their options,” said Copeland.

Lawrence has been sober now for over a year and is evidence if someone seeks treatment they can have a life after an overdose.

“If you would have saw me a year and a half ago. You would truly be amazed. Because I was that person, that nobody talked to. I was that homeless person under a bridge. And now I have a full time job. Thanks to the programs that I'm in, and I'm happy," Lawrence said.

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