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Beacon Community Impact addressing opioid crisis through NARCAN training, prevention efforts

Every attendee of the Beacon Community Impact Layperson Naloxone class receives a dose of NARCAN through the end of 2021.

Drug overdoses jumped by more than 30 percent nationwide last year, largely fueled by opioids. Opioids alone accounted for more than 69,000 deaths in 2020.

Beacon Community Impact hopes to change that trend by training community members to administer Naloxone, also known as NARCAN.

Developed by Indianapolis non-profit Overdose Lifeline, Layperson Naloxone Training teaches people about the science of opioids, warning signs that people might be using and how to use NARCAN, a nasal spray version of Naloxone that blocks opioid receptors and temporarily stops a overdose in its tracks.

Monthly classes hosted by Beacon Community Impact at Elkhart Health & Aquatics are free of charge and every attendee receives a dose of NARCAN. Naloxone training is available to anyone – no prior certification is needed.

“It’s especially important for loved ones or friends of those who use opioids,” said Matt Grothouse, a project specialist with Beacon Community Impact. “We view it similarly to CPR or an Epi-Pen: something to keep the person alive until help comes.”

Community Health Coordinator Rachel Jhala leads Naloxone training events and said she has administered Naloxone around the community a handful of times. “I see people every day in the community and how they struggle.”

She said her own family’s experience with opioid misuse motivates her work. A member of her family has taken opioids every day since they were prescribed the pills for chronic pain fifteen years ago.

Jhala knows that ending substance use disorders takes an immense amount of dedication. “I want to help provide the support people need to carry that burden,” she said.

For her efforts, Jhala was recently honored by Overdose Lifeline during their Overdose Awareness Annual Awards. As part of the Layperson category, Jhala was recognized as a non-certified contributor that has contributed to solving the opioid and substance misuse epidemic.

Naloxone training classes are just one part of the work Community Impact does to address substance misuse across Michiana. Community Health Coordinator Brian Foster teaches “This Is Not About Drugs,” another class created by Overdose Lifeline.

In the program, Foster talks about local issues with drug misuse, including the deaths of Penn High School graduates Nick and Jack Savage from an accidental overdose. He also emphasizes the risk of addiction for young people and explains healthier coping mechanisms for stress.

Foster said his classes often lead to honest discussions with the students. “I’ve had kids in my CATCH My Breath anti-vaping class say, ‘Well everyone’s already doing this. They hide the vape pens in the ceilings of the bathrooms.’ And that just breaks my heart.”

Jhala said her team also focuses on what happens to someone after they quit using drugs. Members of Beacon Community Impact are training to teach classes such as CRAFT, or Community Reinforcement Approach to Family Training. The evidence-based program helps families help the person get the treatment they need and speak to them in a way that they’re receptive.

Foster, Grothouse and Jhala all cite a person’s emotions, environment and other considerations as factors in a potential misuse disorder. ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, are a major risk factor for addiction, Jhala said. Community Impact also helps match those struggling with their addiction to low-cost counselors.

From Naloxone training to CRAFT to prevention-based classes such as CATCH My Breath, Beacon Community Impact is focused on addressing the opioid crisis and the circumstances that lead to addiction.

“There are people whose needs are not being met,” Foster said. “If I can help meet those needs, I’d like to. That’s why I’m here, man, to help.”

About Benjamin Dashley

Benjamin is a communications specialist at Beacon Health System. In addition to spreading the news about Beacon patients and team members, he enjoys reading and spending time with his wife and son.