I Don't Want Heroin to Kill My Son. So I Taught My 8-Year-Old to Give the Antidote

If Americans were dying from any other cause at the rate they’re dying from heroin overdose – rates quadrupled between 2002 and 2013 – the president of the United States would have already declared a national emergency.

But the general population continues to hold an arrogant notion that addiction is a moral failing, or a choice, when in fact it’s a disease of the brain. This means that even though there’s a non-narcotic, non-addictive medication that can reverse overdoses – naloxone – that is so effective against opiates the American Medical Association recommends co-prescribing it with any opiate-based medication, you can’t assume that first responders approaching an overdose victim will have it with them.

At a time when seconds matter, when a delay in treatment means someone you care about could sustain permanent brain damage, or die – and when that person could be my young-adult son, who suffers from drug addiction – I can’t wait for change to come. So I taught my eight-year-old daughter to administer naloxone.

It was originally her idea. One August morning, speaking with another devastated parent, I advised they have Narcan, the injection form of naloxone, on hand. It’s legal in many states for at-risk patients. After hanging up, my eight-year-old asked: “Mom, why haven’t you trained me? If something happened to my brother, I would want to save him.” I was able to train her and a friend to administer Narcan using nasal and intra-muscular methods.

Kids don’t have the resistance to the idea of naloxone I’ve encountered in adults.Volunteering with the Bullitt Opioid Addiction Team (Boat) and Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition (KyHRC), I’ve participated in conferences to train and distribute Narcan among communities. Most adults we approach want to argue that Naloxone is used as a safety net, only allowing one to escape death and continue on a path of destruction. But a life of recovery is not possible after you’re dead. The goal is to keep someone alive until they can change.

Frustrated with the reluctance of so many adults, it was time to appeal to a new demographic. Kids have minds like sponges, and they are curious. Isn’t that why drug dealers market to them? This is the demographic most likely to buckle to peer pressure. What if training them to administer Narcan were to heighten their awareness regarding the danger of drugs? What if this training opens dialogue for children and adults to speak about addiction? On a larger scale, can training kids decrease the stigma of addiction?

I realized it requires a mature child to handle a vial and syringe. But in October, I attended the Unite to Face Addiction Rally in Washington DC and watched as pharmaceutical representatives from Kaleo demonstrated their new product, Evzio. It delivers naloxone in a device akin to an EpiPen. It is perfect for training kids. In areas like my home in Bullitt County and the northern Kentucky area, hit hard by the heroin epidemic, a knowledgeable youngster could save a life.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism of my decision to teach my daughter how to save my son: it’s too much to put on a child; children shouldn’t be around drugs; what if the Narcan doesn’t save them and the kid has to live with that guilt? These are valid concerns. However, we are losing too many youths to drugs. If the child is mature enough and wants to train, why not let them?

Action must be taken somewhere, and the sooner the better. Boat and KyHRC are holding a kids’ training and distribution event later this month. It’s a start.

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