A first-of-its-kind training class in Northern Virginia will show laypeople this weekend how to administer the life-saving drug naloxone.
Known by the brand name, Narcan, it's used to counteract the potentially fatal impact of a heroin or opioid overdose. The drug has been used by first responders, but thanks to a law passed in the 2015 Virginia legislative session, naloxone will now be available to civilians without a prescription.
It's something Ginny Atwood has been pushing for, and now she's a naloxone instructor in the training session. Her younger brother, Christopher, died of a heroin overdose in 2013. She'd never heard of naloxone when she came home to find him near death.
"I only found about it after the fact and wondered if I'd only had that medication that day, might I have had a chance of saving him?" said Atwood. "That's something that's haunted me always, so it's on my heart to get this medication to people when possible. There were barriers in place before. Now that the law has passed, that's not the case."
After Christopher's death, Atwood and her parents started the Chris Atwood Foundation. Its goal is to help save others by making naloxone more available.
"This is medication you hope nobody ever has to use, but the sad fact is overdoses have tripled in the last five years in Northern Virginia," Atwood said. "People are going to die, and this medication can do something about it, and we need to get it to as many poeple as possible."
A state pilot program to bring naloxone training to laypeople is expanding across the Commonwealth. At least 25 people have signed up for the first Northern Virginia training session being held at the Northern Virginia Community College Annandale campus on Saturday afternoon. The state is providing "Revive" kits, filled with all the equipment needed to administer Narcan, to counteract a heroin or opiooid overdose.
"Before too long it should be quite simple to walk up to the [pharmacy] counter and get nalaoxone like you might get Sudafed," explained Atwood.
But she's discovered that's not not the case just yet. She's been calling and visting Northern Virginia pharmacies to find out if they are aware of the new law and whether they have naloxone available. She discovered many pharmacists couldn't even find it in their computer systems. Most were also unaware the drug could be obtained without a prescription. She said Walgreen's has a special arrangement with the Revive pilot program to stock the drug.
Atwood was encouraged when she made a second visit to a Rite-Aid in Reston, where a pharmacy staffer told her last week they couldn't locate the drug. This time, they reported they could order it in a day.
Atwood said for her family, spreading the word is a way of honoring her late brother's memory.
"Christopher was a kind soul, and he always wanted to help people, so when we started the Chris Atwood Foundation, we wanted to continue that desire of his," she said.
Atwood said it's also been good grief therapy for her.
"Just knowing we are carrying on his legacy and that he meant so much to people in life and he still means so much to people in death is hugely theraperutic to me."