Reedley nonprofit combats fentanyl crisis with Narcan kits

Sequoia Safety Council distributes free Narcan kits to anyone who would like to be prepared in case of a fentanyl overdose

Reedley’s Sequoia Safety Council distributes free Narcan kits to the community. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published March 10, 2024  • 
10:00 am

REEDLEY – A Reedley nonprofit, in conjunction with the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), has launched an ambitious pilot program in Reedley to not only combat the scourge of opioid overdoses but also to help remove the stigma associated with seeking help for someone who may die for lack of immediate treatment.

From March 1 through May 30, as part of the Narcan Distribution Project, the Sequoia Safety Council is distributing, free of charge, Narcan Safety Kits to anyone who wants one.

“No questions asked,” said Safety Council General Manager Russ Richardson. “Our desire and the point of the program is to get the kits into the community.”

According to 2021 statistics from the Fresno County Coroner, 43 individuals in the county fatally overdosed on fentanyl and another 28 died when using fentanyl combined with another substance. Since September 2023, there have been 23 fatal fentanyl overdoses in Tulare County.

Statistics support Narcan’s effectiveness in the hands of the public. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, from 1996 to 2014, at least 26,500 opioid overdoses in the United States were reversed by laypersons using naloxone – brand name Narcan.

According to a 2018 study by the medical journal Addictive Behaviors, opioid overdoses decreased by 14% in states that enacted laws making it easier for the public to access Narcan.

Richardson, who has been an EMT for 34 years, said that while Narcan has been readily available to first responders, the rise in fentanyl-related overdoses has made it imperative that members in the community know how to administer the drug.

Over the course of his career, Richardson administered Narcan to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose with great success. But fentanyl has changed all of that. Because the drug is routinely laced with non-opioid drugs, the effects are unpredictable – too often with fatal results. As a standalone narcotic, fentanyl is 100 times more potent than heroin.

Russ Richardson the General Manager of the Sequoia Safety Council promotes the free Narcan Distribution Project. (Kenny Goodman)

“It is so strong, it often requires two doses to work,” said Richardson. He added that each free kit comes with two doses. Each kit also has a FAQ sheet. And training is available to those who want it.

“If someone has two minutes or 10, we’ll give them training,” he said.

REMOVING THE STIGMA

Dandelion Mendoza from the Sequoia Safety Council reads instructions to an individual picking up a free Narcan kit. (Kenny Goodman)

The program has shown good results so far, Richardson said. The problem is there is a belief that by distributing Narcan kits in the community, this enables individuals to continue their drug use.

“I’ve had people come in and pick up kits because their kids are going off to college,” he said. “They have told me they are so grateful because of the peace of mind it gives them.”

The results simply outweigh the stigma.

“Making Narcan available to the community, potentially saving a life, that’s what is important,” said Richarson.

Richardson initially ordered 204 kits from DHCS because he did not know what the demand would be. But he said the Safety Council will have enough kits to last through May 30.

“We’ll have them. I’ll order more when we’re down to about half our supply,” he said.

NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE

According to a fact sheet distributed by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), producing fentanyl is not an exact science.

Two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and past usage. Fentanyl pills found on the streets are counterfeit – they are not prescriptions that have been looted from medicine cabinets. An analysis from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) found that some counterfeit pills contain as much as 5 milligrams – more than twice the lethal dose.

The CDC notes that synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, are the leading cause of fatal overdoses in the U.S. The CDC compared statistics from 2020 and 2021. Fatal overdoses involving opioids rose over 38%. Fatal overdoses involving synthetic opioids – specifically, counterfeit fentanyl – rose over 55%. 

Sequoia Safety Council is located at 500 E. 11th Street in Reedley.

Darren Fraser
Reporter