As Cathy Messina took the podium at the Middletown Municipal Complex to relate the harrowing story of finding two of her children overdosing on heroin in the same night, the audience stiffened.
Dozens of them gathered there Monday night to be trained on how to use Narcan, a medicine that reverses the effect of overdoses from heroin and other opioids. Undoubtedly, their thoughts turned to their own family members or friends who may be struggling with addiction.
“My worst nightmare came true,” Messina said.
One of her sons survived, the other did not.
David Messina, the younger of her two sons, was pronounced dead that night at Doylestown Hospital in February 2014. At that time, he was 21, a 2010 graduate of Archbishop Wood High School.
Her surviving son, who she requested not be named, entered treatment right away, and as of today, Messina said, is in a “very solid recovery” from his addiction.
“We’re watching our loved ones be pulled by this monster, and we try desperately to pull them back,” Messina said. “We have to ban together and help each other because we need to save our kids. Our kids want to be saved.”
That sentiment is part of the reason she started Drug Addiction oVerdose Education (D.A.V.E.). Named in memory of her son, Messina founded D.A.V.E. to help save lives by getting Narcan into the hands of friends and family members of people with opioid addictions as well as having candid discussions about addiction as a disease to lift the stigma and help those who are struggling.
At this training session, she was able to do both.
With funding from the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, D.A.V.E. distributed 63 Narcan kits to those who attended the session. Each kit had two doses of Narcan nasal spray, and those present were given the necessary training to use it.
It was the 11th time D.A.V.E. held one of these sessions. These sessions, coordinated by Messina and her longtime friend Denise Frattara, aim to make sure that in the event of an overdose, friends and family members will have Narcan on hand in case first responders do not.
Elvis Rosado of Point Prevention Philadelphia, a multi-service public health organization, led the training session. He also spoke about the stigma of drug addiction and the increasingly alarming prevalence of prescription pain medication.
“The reality is that there are a lot of individuals out there whose lives were destroyed or changed forever because they were given a medication and they didn’t know the severity of that medication,” Rosado said. “People don’t realize that as a result of that we end up here.”
People who start off taking prescription pain medication, he said, can become addicted. The high prices of that medication either on the street or from a pharmacy have people seeking a cheaper option, and often people may turn to heroin.
Narcan can save lives. As of March, Bucks County first responders recorded about 100 saves using it. It doesn’t stop addiction, but as Messina said, “Every life is worth saving.”
This, and having frank discussions about drug addiction, can go a long way. D.A.V.E. organizers plan on hosting at least four more of these sessions this year, aimed at distributing Narcan and discussing substance abuse in general.
If the stigma that surrounds drug addiction is lifted, said Messina, people struggling with it will be more willing to seek help from friends or family without being afraid of people’s judgments or perceptions of them.
“Fear is the enabler, but when that ambulance shows up at the door, everybody is going to know,” Rosado said. “Just like we need smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, you need Narcan.”
For more information about training sessions or how to get Narcan, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/drug.addiction.overdose.education.