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“Our lives are on the line”: COVID-19’s toll on preventable overdoses

CW: Opoid use and overdose


©Jake Bacon for the Arizona Daily Sun

COVID-19’s grasp on America is not letting up at any point in the identifiable future. Debates of whether to homeschool children, send employees to work, vote by mail, and many topics of similar nature occupy our televisions, political debates and dining room talk. However, among many other overshadowed topics is, how has COVID-19 affected access to Narcan accessibility and training?


Massachusetts’s opioid crisis is no secret, and with International Overdose Awareness Day just passing on August 31, it’s clear Boston needs to amp up our discussions on overdose prevention and community harm reduction.


“Being someone who needs access to Narcan during a pandemic has been tough to say the least,” said Em, a former heroin user currently living in a sober house in Massachusetts, along with 12 other folks in recovery. For those unfamiliar with the term, a sober house is a communal living space that serves as a bridge, or “in between,” where those in recovery can continue to reinforce the lessons and techniques learned in rehab with support from their peers.


“In March, we were running dangerously low on Narcan. I reached out to a local organization, but their supplies were low too, and we could only get one box of Narcan from them,” said Em. “In the event of an overdose, especially now with all the Fentanyl and Carfentanil in the area, you may need more than one box of Narcan to revive someone.”


For additional context, Fentanyl and Carfentanil are opioids that are significantly more toxic than their counterparts. So much so, that Carfentanil is never intended for human consumption under any circumstances, instead it is used in veterinary practices for larger animals.


Understandably, a single box containing two doses of Narcan wasn’t sufficient. Em then turned to social media, and caught the attention of a harm reduction group in California, which had the capability to ship an adequate amount of Naloxone.


While this may seem like a wholesome connection on the surface, it becomes increasingly dark the closer you look. Em was forced to put blind faith in the hands of the general population, and their needs were only able to be met by a group almost 3,000 miles away. What about the user without internet access? What happens to the user without a mailing address? To the user who cannot wait days for a shipment to arrive? Again, our country’s healthcare system continues to fail the people who need it most.


“Narcan is crucial, and the lack of access, which is magnified now during the pandemic, is deadly … I’ve had multiple friends die in the last five months because the drugs are getting stronger and it’s hard to access Narcan nowadays,” said Em. “I’ve attended funeral services for some close friends over Zoom. My community is dying at an alarming rate, and something needs to change. We need access to Narcan. Our lives are on the line, and I am afraid for myself, and my friends.”


Amid the arduous climate, a few groups both local and national are back or continuing to provide a mix of in-person and online Narcan training. Here is a list of organizations currently offering training sessions:

Tapestry Health, Western Mass:


Boston Public Health Commission, Online:


Get Naloxone Now, Online:


Naloxone Training, Online:


Metrowest Harm Reduction:


Ed. Note: This article was originally drafted in August of 2020.

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