Image default

Saving Lives in the East End

If someone you loved was dying, would you sacrifice an hour of your time so that they might live? If your brother or sister, mother or father, spouse or partner was dying, how grateful would you be if a bystander could save their life?

The United States is currently in the grip of an epidemic that is claiming the lives of people of all walks of life. The opioid crisis is something that affects all of us, and the East End is no exception. And it’s not just heroin or other illegal drugs, either. The grandmother who accidentally takes a second dose of her painkiller because she forgot that she took one that morning. The father who gets injured and is prescribed an opioid, but who winds up addicted. The son or daughter who gets their prescription filled, but the pharmacist accidentally made an error in the dosage.

Earlier this week, there was a free training on the use of Narcan held at the East End Library. During the training, both staff and members of the general public learned about addiction, opioids, and how to recognize the signs of an overdose. At the end of the training, all participants received a free kit that contained two doses of Narcan. Little did we know at the time, how fortunate it would be that we had the training on Tuesday and received that life-saving drug.

On Wednesday afternoon, a young man overdosed.

I was leaving work to get my hair cut, when I noticed commotion in a parking lot nearby. When I got there, he was on the ground, some of his family standing around him, more scared than you can imagine. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t moving. His lips were turning blue and his face was pale and starting to change color. Even though 911 had been called, anyone could see that he was going to die.

Because of the training we’d received, I knew that it was possible that he had overdosed. I ran to where I keep my narcan kit and raced back. Narcan is administered like a nasal spray; if you’ve ever used Flonase or Afrin or any other nasal spray, it’s similar to that. I tilted his head back, inserted the narcan, and pressed the plunger.

Within a matter of seconds, this young man who was moments from death, he coughed. He drew breath, and he groaned. He was going to live.

It took several minutes and another dose of narcan to bring him around and out of immediate danger, but by the time the ambulance arrived, he was sitting up. A few minutes later, as I walked away from the situation now that it was well in hand, he was standing and talking with EMTs.

Until this week, I didn’t truly understand the crisis we face, or how powerful the tools are that we have available. I’d heard about narcan as some “wonder drug,” but didn’t understand how important it was; I’ve read about the opioid crisis, but it hadn’t quite hit home. But now that I have seen with my own eyes how amazing this life-saving drug can be, now that I have seen that it can bring a person back from the dead, I am so glad to have taken the training and am ready.

That young man was the third overdose that the EMTs had seen in the East End that day. We are in talks to do another training at the library later this year, and I would love to see more faces from the community there. Anyone who works with the public needs this training; anyone who is concerned about our community needs this training. Anyone who would save a life needs this training. It took me one hour to complete the class offered by the Richmond City Health District, and I was involved in the incident the other day for about ten minutes; so far, I have given 70 minutes of my time to learning about the opioid crisis, how to administer narcan, and actually performing the techniques I learned. 70 minutes of my time, which could have just as easily been wasted watching YouTube, playing a video game, reading mindless articles. 70 minutes of my time, but that young man has his whole life back.


How do you tell the difference between someone who’s very high and who’s overdosing? If you’re having a hard time telling the difference, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose – it could save someone’s life.  The Harm Reduction Coalition shares the following tips:

If someone is really high and using downers like heroin, or pills:

  • Pupils will contract and appear small
  • Muscles are slack and droopy
  • They might “nod out”
  • Scratch a lot due to itchy skin
  • Speech may be slurred
  • They might be out of it, but they will respond to outside stimulus like loud noise or a light shake from a concerned friend.

If you are worried that someone is getting too high, it is important that you don’t leave them alone. If the person is still conscious, walk them around, keep them awake, and monitor their breathing.

The following are signs of an overdose:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsive to outside stimulus
  • Awake, but unable to talk
  • Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic, or has stopped
  • For lighter skinned people, the skin tone turns bluish purple, for darker skinned people, it turns grayish or ashen.
  • Choking sounds, or a snore-like gurgling noise (sometimes called the “death rattle”)
  • Vomiting
  • Body is very limp
  • Face is very pale or clammy
  • Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
  • Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all

If someone is making unfamiliar sounds while “sleeping” it is worth trying to wake him or her up. Many loved ones of users think a person was snoring, when in fact the person was overdosing. These situations are a missed opportunity to intervene and save a life.

Upcoming Trainings and Resources:

  • Richmond City Health District Free Narcan Training and Dispensing: 400 E Cary St Richmond VA 23219 . 1st Friday of the month at 2pm. Training and dispensing limited to the first 25 people. For more information, contact Kate Bausman at 804-339-5241.
    • November 2
    • December 7
  • Richmond Public Library: Various times and locations; free training provided by the Richmond City Health District. Participants must register in advance.
  • SAARA Center: 10:00- 12:00pm on the second Thursday of each month. 2000 Mecklenburg Street, Richmond, VA 23223. For more information, contact Laura Madsen at


Related posts

What do Narcan Training, Dessert Decorating, & Business Basics Have in Common?

Jacob C.

Pete the Cat is coming to the East End Branch Library

Adam Zimmerli


Sandi Lowery
Sandi Lowery 10/08/2018 at 9:44 AM

Our East End librarians have always gone above and beyond! <3

Karen Smith
Karen Smith 10/08/2018 at 11:42 AM

Thank you for sharing this.

MP 10/08/2018 at 12:35 PM

Was he arrested afterwards? For illegal drug usage? People like him are blights on our neighborhood. I HATE the people I see nodding out in the alleys – so super spooky. See the same woman often. Wish they would either get help or just go “live” somewhere else. So sick of these people, I’ve lost a lot of empathy for them. Narcan lets them keep od-ing over and over again.

Also – FYI, no one in my family or close friends are going to be OD-ing on opiods. We don’t use them.

Tanya Zebroski
Tanya Zebroski 10/08/2018 at 1:06 PM

Yes, but sad to say, most wouldnt, not for there family, nor friends. Sadder is they would for a perfect stranger for media attention or that was famous. Ive learned this these past couple months in my own journey? people are no longer like they use to be.

Mary 10/08/2018 at 2:49 PM

What a well-written article by an educated and brave person willing to step up and help someone in need. Kudos to the East End library for offering this training and well done to the librarian for helping a fellow human in need!

EDS 10/08/2018 at 3:09 PM

So how do you get the refills since you stepped up?

K 10/08/2018 at 6:36 PM

MP – Must be a nice view from that tower.

MP 10/08/2018 at 10:41 PM

K – my view is TERRIBLE. I semi-regularly see people nodding off outside my window. I hate it. All this effort by people to help something that is entirely preventable – DON’T START USING OPIATES!

Tara Franzetti
Tara Franzetti 10/09/2018 at 7:18 AM

Great job Adam Zimmerli!!!

K 10/09/2018 at 11:41 AM

MP- I have lost friends to overdose. Two to be exact. They both started using opiates as prescribed by their doctor for major injuries. After the refills were gone the addiction stayed. They tried for years to get clean (both of them) but at the end of it they both relapsed. Just know that many of these people didn’t just decide to go out and start shooting up. There are stories here and I very much apologize that you have to see someone outside your window struggling with addiction. Addiction is real and while yes in some situations it is a choice, the majority are so far gone by the time the prescription runs out that there is little hope.

Since things are clearly going so well for you have you considered moving to the suburbs? At least a fair amount of those struggling with Opioid addiction have homes so you don’t have to see it.

tony 10/09/2018 at 4:36 PM

Yo MP, you may not know it or maybe you don’t understand what drugs are considered opioids; but, there’s a really good chance people in your circle are using them.
Many addicts get hooked after taking Dr. prescribed opioids.

Per your own words if a family member uses you will “hate them” and make them “go live somewhere else” hunh?

These folks are in pain and suffer from an addiction and God knows what else. Compassion goes a long ways in helping people heal; hatred not so much.

I don’t expect you will understand another view until someone you love has a problem. Then maybe, maybe your heart and view will thaw towards those in need. When that happens know that there are people who care and will help.

Hoping you never experience this pain.

M 10/09/2018 at 6:44 PM

Hey MP- if you have a problem with addicts then don’t go to the grocery store,the movies, your children’s school, or your own doctor. You are very naive and very misguided. This epidemic is around us everywhere and if you’re not willing to be open minded about lives being saved then you should probably get the hell out of our neighborhood. Get off your high horse and wake up. You probably drink about 3 glasses of wine to self medicate and sit on your porch judging the people in our neighborhood that have grown up here and lived here longer than you. Have some respect for human beings and shove that hate rant right up your own ass <3

Great idea for narcan training! Hopefully this is something that will happen again!

MP 10/10/2018 at 9:49 AM

M – I’ve lived here a long time. I’m really sick of people assuming I haven’t just because I’m not super ghetto like them. I don’t drink, thanks. And yep – seeing someone smoke crack outside my window WILL NEVER BE OK. Don’t pretend it’s ok – EVER. I’ve called paramedics three times on OD-ing people (and probably saved their lives), so don’t think I’m cruel. Once, I watched about 20 cars drive past a passed out man, and not one stopped. I stopped, and called the paramedics and got him help. I just wish these people would never have started down this path. I think that’s where we need to focus our energy and the doctors are on board now – not over-prescribing. We’ll kick this, but people can NEVER start taking opioids.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.