HONESDALE, PA — Officer Ray Gabikian had the requisite training to use Narcan, plus a year in Iraq preparing for the worst-possible situations, so he wasn’t flustered when he was called to the scene of a double overdose.
A man and woman were both losing consciousness at an apartment and when Gabikian and his partner Vincent Mezick, who is also a veteran, arrived on the scene, the man was turning purple. The woman was going in and out of consciousness, while a third party was performing CPR on the man. Gabikian gave the woman a dose of Narcan and she immediately came to.
Usually, Mezick said it’s a 30-second wait that can feel a lot longer.
Mezick, who has been an officer with the Honesdale Borough and the Delaware Water Gap for about two years, has administered Narcan three or four times.
This was Gabikian’s first.
As the opioid epidemic surged, naloxone, a drug agonist that reverses the effects of opioids and goes by the brand name Narcan, has become a household name. That’s the result of a concentrated effort, beginning with the surgeon general in April of last year, to raise awareness of and accessibility to the drug. At the time, data showed that less than one percent of patients who should have been co-prescribed naloxone were getting access to it.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has made the drug more widely available, creating free dispersal locations throughout the state.
Now it’s not only EMTs who keep Narcan on hand, but also anyone who might be on the “front lines” of the epidemic, including social workers, family members of addicts and police officers.
This has added to the repetoire of what police officers might have to do medically. “It’s a little nervewracking,” Mezick said. “You don’t want to do anything wrong.”
Weeks after the double overdose, Gabikian ran into the man they’d saved at the probation office. “He thanked me, he said he had started rehab. I saved his life,” he said. “It feels good. It let me give somebody an opportunity to see what they’ve done.”
The situation has worsened considerably during Gabikian’s 15 years on the force. Mezick said that despite efforts to mitigate the opioid epidemic nationwide, he’s not seeing improvement in the region.
Gabikian remembers a story from a fellow officer who’d seen a man parked at the Honesdale Bank with a needle in his arm. “Jesus, in broad daylight, like 2 [or] 2:30 in the afternoon,” he said.
In the last few months, police have been dispatched to help children between 12 and 16.
“We’ve had younger and younger people overdose... especially with the fentanyl, they don’t know what they’re messing around with,” Mezick said. “It seems like it’s getting worse, and more people are doing it, so it’s definitely a bigger problem.”
The Honesdale police and the district attorney’s office have made several large drug busts in the last year. But both Mezick and Gabikian said the amount of drugs out there can be overwhelming.
“It feels like a never-ending battle,” Mezick said. “You want to go out and catch drug dealers... but there’s just so much out there and it feels like you catch one and then another one starts.”
Though he’s happy to have Narcan in his tool belt, Gabikian is looking for more prevention efforts.
“I think we should make the public aware of—pass the word out—that Narcan does work, but at the same time, to, you know, stay away from drugs.”
The River Reporter will continue talking with those who have had to use Narcan. Contact Elizabeth@riverreporter.com to share your experience.