"I felt like a superhero": The experience of responding to drug overdose among individuals trained in overdose prevention

Division of Global Public Health, Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0507, San Diego, CA 92093-0507, USA. Electronic address: .
The International journal on drug policy (Impact Factor: 2.54). 08/2013; 25(1). DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.07.003
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Overdose prevention programs (OPPs) train people who inject drugs and other community members to prevent, recognise and respond to opioid overdose. However, little is known about the experience of taking up the role of an "overdose responder" for the participants.
We present findings from qualitative interviews with 30 participants from two OPPs in Los Angeles, CA, USA from 2010 to 2011 who had responded to at least one overdose since being trained in overdose prevention and response.
Being trained by an OPP and responding to overdoses had both positive and negative effects for trained "responders". Positive effects include an increased sense of control and confidence, feelings of heroism and pride, and a recognition and appreciation of one's expertise. Negative effects include a sense of burden, regret, fear, and anger, which sometimes led to cutting social ties, but might also be mitigated by the increased empowerment associated with the positive effects.
Findings suggest that becoming an overdose responder can involve taking up a new social role that has positive effects, but also confers some stress that may require additional support. OPPs should provide flexible opportunities for social support to individuals making the transition to this new and critical social role. Equipping individuals with the skills, technology, and support they need to respond to drug overdose has the potential to confer both individual and community-wide benefits.

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    ABSTRACT: Background Overdose is a significant cause of death among heroin users. Frequently, other heroin users are present when an overdose occurs, which means the victim's life could be saved. There is a lack of studies that, based on heroin users own stories, examine their views, assessments, and responses to witnessed overdoses. Methods The study is based on qualitative interviews with thirty-five heroin users who witnessed someone else's overdose. Results The heroin users generally had a positive attitude towards assisting peers who had overdosed. A number of factors and circumstances, however, contribute to witnesses often experiencing resistance to or ambivalence about responding. The witness's own high, the difficulty in assessing the seriousness of the situation, an unwillingness to disturb someone else's high, uncertainty about the motive behind the overdose and whether the victim does or does not want assistance as well as fear of police involvement, were common factors that acted as barriers to adequate responses in overdose situations. Conclusion The fact that being high makes it difficult to respond to overdoses, using traditional methods, argues for simpler and more effective response techniques. This can include intranasal naloxone programs for heroin users. The findings regarding the uncertainty about the intention of the overdose victim and the sensitivity to the experience of a good high argue for more up-front communication and discussion amongst using peers so that they can make their intentions clear to each other. Issues like this can be addressed in overdose education interventions. Overdose prevention measures also need to address the fact that fear of the police acts as a barrier to call emergency services.
    International Journal of Drug Policy 01/2014; 26(1). DOI:10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.07.006 · 2.40 Impact Factor