How you can help save someone’s life

Most of us have been affected by addiction, either because of someone we know (a friend or family member) or through personal experience.

For some, alcohol and drug use may be a choice when attempting to manage uncomfortable feelings: While environmental and social factors may encourage use, for those living with active addiction, it is not a matter of choice. Substance use disorder is a result of uncontrollable use of a substance regardless of the consequences, paired with intense cravings, tolerance and for some, significant and possibly life threatening withdrawal (American Psychiatric Association).

Addiction is associated with changes in the function of the brain circuits involved with pleasure, learning, stress and decision making (U.S. Surgeon General). This is the very reason why the reoccurrence of active use is common and why ongoing abstinence is difficult. Without treatment or recovery oriented programs, a person may continue the obsessive compulsive thinking and behavior that leads to the use of the substance. Anxiety, social isolation and stress associated with the pandemic have intensified the use of alcohol and other drugs. Alcohol sales and the prevalence of other drugs have increased significantly in our local communities. Heroin, cocaine and crystal methamphetamine use have been on the rise. Similar to the increased numbers of COVID-19 cases in Franklin County, there has been a notable increase of fentanyl in many of the drugs found in our local communities.

Naloxone, otherwise known as narcan, can prevent a fatal heroin, opioid or fentanyl overdose. Anyone can be trained to administer narcan, and once trained, you are able to help reverse the overdose. Fentanyl is a powerful drug and often requires several doses of narcan; your assistance can support the individual until EMS arrives. Many of our local treatment providers offer narcan training and are able to schedule at your convenience. The New York State 911 Good Samaritan Law allows people to call 911 without fear of arrest if they are having a drug or alcohol overdose that requires emergency medical care or if they witness someone overdosing (https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/0139.pdf). The combination of calling 911 and administering narcan are steps that can be taken to avoid a fatal overdose. Your action can save someone’s life.

There are local resources available if you or someone you know needs help. St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, Citizen Advocates and Adirondack Health Behavioral Health Services are available to community members. The Open Access Center operated by St. Joseph’s is available to those looking for support, either as a friend or family member, and for those needing help with substance use. The number is 518-354-5390. Individuals with lived experience are available to answer the call and provide guidance and support.

In the very near future, St. Joseph’s will open a medically supervised detox on John Munn Road in Saranac Lake, a much needed and long awaited service in the North Country. Citizen Advocates operates the Crisis and Recovery Center in Malone, a 24-7 service for those in behavioral health crisis (518-481-8160). Citizen Advocates has recently launched the CALEP pilot (Clinician and Law Enforcement Partnership), which provides the Saranac Lake Police Department with access to a licensed clinician who can support individuals in behavioral health crisis. St. Joseph’s, Citizen Advocates and Adirondack Health offer a variety of services for those wishing to connect with treatment.

There are a number of ways an individual can start their journey in recovery. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), recovery is defined as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” If you are able to support someone in a potential overdose either by administering Narcan and/or by calling 911, you may be the very reason that person lives. Hopefully, and with your help, their next choice will be one of recovery.

Suzanne Lavigne is the director of Community Services for Franklin County. Leigh Wenske is the acting chief of the Saranac Lake Police Department.


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