None of Richard Cowans’ drivers with Irie Transportation have had to use the Narcan that’s stocked in their vehicles.
The medication that can reverse an opioid overdose has expired, so he is getting a fresh supply and a refresher session for his drivers.
But with opioid overdoses at a record level last year, it may be a matter of when, not if.
“I hope to God not, but at any given time we could find ourselves in the middle of this going on, even in our vehicles,” he said. “I thought it was important for the drivers not only to have the training, but to also have the product on board — in case. We cover five different counties. So at any given time you could see one of our cars anywhere in five different counties and something could be going on and we may be able to help someone.”
Irie Transportation, on Buffalo Road in Gates, provides non-medical non-emergency transportation for people going to a variety of appointments, such as drug treatment.
Cowans recently took advantage of a training offered by Monroe County Improving Addiction Coordination team and the nonprofit Mission Recovery and Hope, which promotes addiction services.
The free training is part of Monroe on a Mission, which teaches businesses owners and staff how to use Narcan. The medication is a nasal mist, and it takes just a few minutes to learn how to give a dose. The medication works only when a person has used an opioid.
Cowans first put Narcan in his vehicles in 2019 after learning of the medication from Carol Michelle Hulsizer, founder of Mission Recovery and Hope. At the time, opioid overdose deaths among Blacks were 21% of the total of 181 in Monroe County.
Last year, overdose deaths among Blacks were 26.5% of a county-record 238 fatalities. The previous record was 220 total deaths in 2017.
Data on opioid (heroin/fentanyl) overdose deaths among Latinos was not supplied by the county when it reported in late August on the 2020 total overdose fatalities. In 2017, the previous record year, 15.5% of the deaths were among Latinos.
Cowans said that opioid misuse in the Black community has not received enough attention.
“What’s happening now on the national level has been happening in the Black community for a long time,” he said. “But to me it was either swept under the rug or just overlooked.”
He said the same facilities and the same treatment need to be available. So, to, does access, but it may require a different approach.
“I do think you need to take a closer look at what’s happening (in the Black community) and try to provide more assistance to them. You can provide all the assistance you want, people have to take advantage of it. And clearly if you’re not in the right frame of mind, that’s the last thing on your mind. … So I think that we can’t wait for it to come for them to come to us anymore. We have to take it to them.”
The county is being more aggressive with Narcan training, basically cold-calling businesses and asking to train workers on how to use the potentially life-saving medication.
Tisha Smith, the director of addiction services for Monroe County, said Monroe on a Mission will bring training to other towns. Business owners can call the county at (585) 753-5278.
She said the increase in overdose deaths among minorities shows a need to get Narcan to Black- and Latino-owned businesses.
With the program just starting, it’s too soon to say how well it’s been received overall.
“Some folks have never had overdoses occur on their property and are just not interested,” she said. “Others are perhaps wary of having their staff have Narcan due to liability issues. … I think it just depends on people’s experience. We’re here to normalize — if you can normalize it – and this is just one example of that, that we’re here doing today.”
New York’s Good Samaritan Law makes it legal for a non-medical person who has been trained in how to use Narcan to administer the medication to try to prevent a fatal overdose.
Cowans said that just because his staff has not had to use Narcan, that doesn’t mean the medication won’t be needed.
“That’s why for me, located in the area that I am, I feel like I’m in a place where I can make a difference,” Cowans said. “… I want us to stay ready, in case we’re ever in that position.”