NORWICH — Truth Pharm, a Binghamton-based nonprofit organization that provides resources and services relating to substance use, will be coming to Norwich to provide a free Narcan training event beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 23 at the Guernsey Memorial Library.
According to Truth Pharm Program Coordinator Courtney Hayes, Truth Pharm aims to "raise awareness, reduce stigma, and advocate for policy change to reduce the harms caused by substance use. So what all that means in basically we recognize that people have been using substances since the beginning of time, they will always continue to use substances, and that we want to see accurate, evidence-based education and also policies in place that will keep people who make the choice to use substances safer."
A large part of their efforts to further that mission is community outreach and education through presentations, educational series on substance use and coping strategies, and training opportunities such as overdose recognition and Narcan training.
Narcan is a life-saving treatment used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
"We start the training by discussing the science of substance use and addiction, so explaining to people what changes happen in the brain, body, and behavior over time when use occurs," explained Hayes. "I cover some of that stuff, and then one of our long-term volunteers who’s a certified Narcan trainer in New York State will go over the specific overdose recognition and reversal training."
After the presentation, Narcan kits will be provided for free to those who would like one, as well as information on how to get additional Narcan kits from local pharmacies.
"A lot of the major pharmacies in New York State now have Narcan on what’s called standing order, which means that they have it and you don’t need a prescription to get it, you can just walk in and say, hey I need a Narcan kit," said Hayes. "The cost will depend on your insurance, but there is a program to help offset some of those costs in New York State."
Recognizing the signs of an overdose and knowing how to properly use Narcan to reverse the effects is an important skill to have, as EMS response time in rural areas can sometimes be too long for someone experiencing an overdose to wait.
"In rural communities especially, having Narcan available and knowing how and when to use it is so, so, so important because in some of these communities, Chenango included, there’s so much distance between people’s homes and where emergency responders are. So it can take EMS a while to get to where the emergency is," Hayes explained. "We also have EMS squads in rural communities who don’t have, and won’t even consider, requiring their responders to carry Narcan. So unfortunately it’s on community members to bridge that gap and keep each other safe."
Additionally, Hayes said the need for substance use related services and resources have been even more crucial over the last few years, largely in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past year, she said overdose deaths have increased to an alarming 107,000 individuals.
"Truth Pharm had its highest caseload of people receiving direct services throughout the COVID pandemic. That included the highest amount of requests for shelter based needs, as everybody was kind of navigating all of that early on. That actually has still continued," said Hayes.
"We know the last two years the overdose deaths have absolutely skyrocketed all across the country. We’re looking at right now for the last 12 months, since 2021, CDC estimates are now up to about 107,000 lives lost," she continued. "So correlated with that we have been seeing increased requests for Narcan training, and we also do pretty focused outreach to set up these trainings in the communities."
Truth Pharm's outreach efforts are part of a granted project called Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP), which covers several counties in New York State as well as two in Pennsylvania, and is a collaboration between Truth Pharm and Reach Medical in Ithaca. The grant funding is provided by the Health Resources and Service Administration.
Through this outreach work, Hayes said she has learned that in the United States the number of overdose deaths are approximately five times higher than deaths related to car accidents.
"You know, we have accidental deaths in vehicles and we have seat belts, and there’s seat belt checks, and there’s all these regulations about not texting and driving, and there’s guardrails, and speed limits," she said. "There’s all these safety measures put into place, and we’re not seeing that same response for people who are using drugs who are dying in massive, massive numbers right now."
Truth Pharm will be returning to Norwich on Wednesday, June 1 for another free educational presentation titled "Shawna Has a Secret: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Adolescent Substance Use."
The presentation will begin at 6 p.m. at the Norwich Family YMCA, and will teach parents and caregivers the warning signs of teen substance use, as well as how to navigate conversations with teenagers about substance use.
"We set up like a mock bedroom, and attendees are allowed to search the bedroom and they kind of pick out the things that they recognize as signs and symptoms of substance use," said Hayes. "We go over all of those in the presentation, and sometimes we show parents some things that are pretty surprising."
"The rate of teen overdose deaths rose in the US in 2020. So that’s the first time that trend has been seen, so this is an opportune time for parents to get really real education about what is happening in the landscape of teen substance use, and how do we respond to it in a way that is not going to shut down the conversation forever," she added.
In addition to community outreach and education, Truth Pharm also offers direct services to those who use substances, such as assistance in locating healthcare, treatment, safety resources, as well as providing sterile syringes and other supplies to help prevent the spread of disease and infection.
Through their outreach efforts, programs, and direct services, Truth Pharm aims to educate the community, keep them safe, and reduce the stigma associated with substance use.
"[We're] really focusing on these, again, these rural communities who are still kind of seeing more frequent stigma toward people who use drugs, and may be more reluctant to have tools like Narcan available," said Hayes. "So we just kind of try to build relationships and get opportunities to talk to people about these things, and see that they are safety tools, nothing more, nothing less."
To learn more about Truth Pharm and their services, visit truthpharm.org.