Managing a Sober Living Home Taught Me The Importance of Naloxone

Nasal spray naloxone (Source: Flickr)

I am a house manager of a sober living home for women in South Florida, USA. I love what I do, but it is terrifying at the same time.

Although the women in my house are only allowed to live there if they can pass random urine analysis drug screenings, I must always be prepared with doses of naloxone (a medication that reverses opioid overdoses), because returning to drug use is a part of many people’s journeys. I never know when the next overdose will be, but I know it will happen. I never know when a girl in my home will be found unconscious in her bed, but it does happen from time to time. I never know when my best friend may overdose and die. I do know that if I ever use heroin again, the next overdose may very well be me.

It is vital to provide access to harm reduction resources to people who have stopped using drugs, because many of those who have done so may sporadically return to using.

As TalkingDrugs has reported, there is considerable misinformation about life-saving drugs like naloxone, including that it increases risky behaviour. In reality, having naloxone readily available - in sober living homes, homeless shelters, and the wider community - saves lives.

Naloxone works by blocking the effects of opioids and thereby restoring a person’s breathing long enough for them to receive medical attention. Naloxone is not only effective, but it is easy to administer as it comes in the form of a nasal spray, or as an injectable.

Though complete abstinence is the only way to ensure that an overdose never happens, the most effective way of reducing the risks of drug use is for harm reduction methods to be widely accepted and implemented.

The fear of dying never stopped me from getting high. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really care if I lived or died. All I cared about was chasing my next hit. In my experience of working with other people who struggle with dependency, most of them felt the same way at some point or another. I was given naloxone four times during the years that I used heroin, and without it I would be dead today. Since harm reduction tools were available to me, I am alive today, and I have the privilege of helping others too. Had my life not been saved due to naloxone, my family would live in persistent pain due to the loss of my life.

In December 2017, one of the girls in my sober living home overdosed in her room. Since I keep doses of naloxone in the house and provide training to the other girls on how it should be administered, her life was saved. She learned from her overdose and became grateful that she was still alive. For her, the overdose was a wake-up call, and her second chance at life motivated her to stop using altogether. She has not used again since.

In the US, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50, the overdose crisis has decreased overall life expectancy for Americans, and nearly 200 people died from overdoses every day in 2017. This crisis is largely a result of problematic opioid use – with both legal and illegal variants – and could be effectively counteracted with increased naloxone access. This is why I will continue to spread awareness around the importance of naloxone, and I hope more people will join me in doing so.

Cassidy Webb is a 24 year old avid writer from South Florida.  She works for a digital marketing company that advocates spreading awareness on drug dependency, and is a sober living home manager for JourneyPure. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.