Phone, keys, wallet, Narcan. That’s the checklist I now recite to myself as I walk out the door every morning. I live in Manhattan’s East Village—and last year, a little over 3,000 people in New York City died of overdoses, 44 of them in my neighborhood alone. Heartbreakingly, it’s anticipated 2023’s number will be even higher.
Years ago, before a global pandemic, and before we realized the grip that opioids had on much of this country’s population, I had a diabetic cat (this is going somewhere, I promise). When my beloved Groucho died at the age of 18, I was left with a box full of individually packaged sterilize needles, and unsure what to do with them. The Internet suggested donating them to a needle exchange, and that’s when I started engaging with my local harm reduction center.
Now in 2023, the opioid epidemic is something I see every single day. Men and women on the streets, subways, and elsewhere, in an opiate haze. People somewhere between sleep and something else, crashed out on subway seats right under NYC-branded advertisements asking “Can You Tell Which of These Has Fentanyl?” I force myself to look at each of these people, to bear witness to their pain and struggle. Doing this made me decide to start carrying the opioid antagonist Narcan in my bag. It’s a drug that when administered nasally (just like a nose spray) can revive a person who has overdosed on heroin, medications in the opioid family, and most frighteningly, fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than morphine. At times, all of these drugs are prescribed for pain control, but each can also be taken recreationally, and regardless of use, they’re all incredibly addictive.
I was able to get Narcan after having a conversation with my general practitioner about my concerns about the opioid epidemic—she wrote me a prescription and the next day I picked it up at CVS. It is now available at most pharmacies (like CVS and Duane Reade) for purchase without a prescription.
The first time I used it on somebody, we were basically alone at Union Square’s NQRW lines subway stop. I circled the man—asking myself “asleep or overdose?” three times before I kicked his shoe, hard, while screaming “are you okay?” No response. So I went in, closer than most people want to be to a stranger, ripping open the Narcan packaging with my long acrylic nails and shoving the straight nozzle up his nose, before pushing the plunger button. As he started to stir, I called 911.