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Using Narcan: First Person Accounts

Using Narcan

Using Narcan: First Person Accounts

Using Narcan is ten times easier than performing the Heimlich Maneuver, and these days, it’s also about 1000 times more common. Heck, with over 100,000 overdose deaths last year, we wouldn’t be surprised if the life-saver wasn’t administered 10,000 times more than the Heimlich.

Not all folks are comfortable using Narcan though. Not everyone has it on hand either. And that’s got to change.

The Guardian’s Alaina Demopoulos recently got with four people who have used Narcan to reverse overdoses. All said it was a quick, intuitive and easy to follow process, even amidst a most emotionally intense situation.

Using Narcan

What follows is a lightly tweaked and edited breakdown from a quartet of absolute heroes. Folks who talk the talk and walk the walk that saves lives. Literally. Here’s hoping they’ll be an absolute  inspiration to everyone!

Brandon Kilmer

Twenty-four-year-old Brandon Kilmer lost his brother to a fentanyl overdose in 2022. Now the Minneapolis native distributes a pack of Narcan to everyone he meets.

“I don’t care if you’re a 17-year-old kid or an 80-year-old grandmother,” said Brandon. “I want you to have it.”

I’ve used Narcan 11 times, that I remember. I used to use drugs, and in 2017 fentanyl took over the heroin supply in Minneapolis. You’d walk down the street and find people overdosing every day. It was death after death after death. So when people started to learn about Narcan, I went to my doctor and told him I needed it, not just for me but for my friends and those strangers on the street.

Every time I do it, I enter this weird state of autopilot. It’s like riding a bike: you have to pick it up and learn how to do it, and then you never forget. The first time I used it, it was to help a man on the bus who had OD’d.

One thing I’ve learned is that when you call an ambulance, it’s best not to mention that you’re dealing with an overdose. Just say you’re with an unresponsive person. There’s just so much stigma around drugs that it’s easier that way. I’ve seen rescue services not show up at all when you mention an “overdose” and having already administered Narcan.

Brandon’s Brother

My brother was addicted to fentanyl. You’d have never known it, though. He went to school, he worked, he was in a trade union. I used Narcan on him once when he was 18 and living at home. He ended up in the hospital, but he got out the same night, came home, and used again. So, once more, I had to repeatedly Narcan him until the police showed up. He landed in the ICU, where he was sedated and intubated for five days. He was in a coma until he regained function of himself.

Later on, my brother and his girlfriend moved into a new place. Things looked good for them, and it felt like he was starting his life as an adult. But he was still addicted to fentanyl, and he used alone. You always want someone to be around, just in case anything happens. But people can feel invincible, I guess. On 29 March 2022, my brother overdosed.

He passed away around 11pm at night, and nobody found him until noon the next day.

I used to use drugs myself. Now, I want to be part of the solution. That’s why I always make sure everyone I meet carries Narcan.


Dvorah also lost a brother to an opioid overdose. After he passed the Los Angeles-based researcher went and got Narcan from a local organization called Being Alive. Dvorah has carried it in her car ever since.

“I never thought I’d actually use it (though),” said Dvorah. “I’m 52. I’m not in the party scene any more. But why not have it?”


An Anniversary, and an Instinct

A few weeks ago, I was in my car driving to the freeway. It was a few days before the anniversary of my brother’s death. He was on my mind. As I drove, I saw a man lying on the sidewalk. But it didn’t seem like the type of place you’d go to sleep if you were homeless or passed out drunk – it didn’t look comfortable.

I just had a feeling. I stopped my car, and I went up to him and said, “Hey buddy, are you OK?” I didn’t get a response. He was wearing a big hoodie that covered most of his body, so I pulled his hood back and saw that he was breathing, but the breath was shallow.

“Well, I guess this is it,” I thought. I ran to my car, got the Narcan, and literally yelled in his face, “I am going to put this up your nose.” After one spray, he slowly opened his eyes. He turned over, said he needed to use the bathroom, and then he peed.

I showed him the spray and asked if he knew what it was for. He did, and we waited for the ambulance together. We didn’t really talk, but I put an extra Narcan on his backpack, in case he needs it. The EMTs came, and that was it. I went back to my day.

It was unbelievable to do this so close to the anniversary of my brother’s death. I’d been thinking about him all week, so using Narcan to reverse an overdose was a wild coincidence. I couldn’t save my brother, but I was able to help someone else.


Saskatoon-based thirty-year-old Rissy posts about naloxone on the TikTok @harmreductionrissy. She’s got good insight too. Then again, two decades of battling addiction will surely provide a good spot of insight.

Here’s some of what Rissy shared with The Guardian.

After 20 years in the throes of addiction, harm reduction work comes naturally to me. I lost a partner and friends to overdoses years ago. That was back when no one was even talking about Narcan. If we had it back then, maybe they’d still be here.

I finally got my hands on some naloxone through an overdose prevention organization back in 2019. It wasn’t a spray though; it was intramuscular. That meant an injection. The first time I used it, I had to administer it through a man’s jeans, into his thigh. The syringe actually bent on my first try. I could have freaked out, but I didn’t. I just drew up another syringe. Thank god that one went in. I remember getting shaky from the adrenaline. But I also knew what I had to do. It’s instinctive. Your body takes control and goes through the right motions.

When the man came out if it, he was very confused. I explained what happened, and he got angry because I had taken away his high.

Wonder if the man’s still angry?

Someone Close

Once, I had to administer Narcan to someone I knew. And that was extra scary, because it was personal. It felt like I was moving in slow-motion. There was this intense sense of urgency. When my friend woke up, they were embarrassed, ashamed, and apologetic. But they shouldn’t have to feel that way.

There’s this huge conversation that if you use Narcan, you’re just enabling someone to use drugs more. But that’s not true – you’re giving them a chance at recovery. Narcan keeps people alive. Dead people can’t recover.

Nicely said, Rissy. Quite nicely said.

Ruth Hollenback

Ruth Hollenback is a 26-year-old restaurant server, harm reduction specialist, and co-founder of the street outreach organization Colfax Cats out in Denver, Colorado. Here’s some of what she said about using Narcan.

A few years ago, I was in Union Station, right in the center of downtown Denver. As I was heading to my train, I saw security guards standing around and looking at a man who was passed out on the ground. They seemed very nonchalant about it all.

I was interning at a syringe exchange at the time, so I walked right up and asked, “What’s going on?” The guards said he wasn’t breathing, but they’d called the paramedics. Otherwise they showed no sense of urgency.

I was kind of flustered, but it’s simple to administer nasal spray: you just put it up the nostril and push the plunger. It’s sort of anticlimactic. My heart was beating very fast, but it was such a serious situation I just focused on what I needed to do.

After I gave the man Narcan, he moved a little bit. There is this myth that everyone who gets Narcan will be aggressive and violent, but that’s not true. This man just looked confused. My Narcaned friends have told me that it’s a very unpleasant experience, because the drug basically kicks you into withdrawal. So you’re going to be very dopesick, which feels crappy. They might be pissed at you for doing that. But I’d rather someone be pissed at me and still be alive.

I stayed with him until the EMTs came. After that, it was back to my normal day. I think I texted the person who taught me how to use Narcan telling them I’d done it, and they were very supportive. The organization I worked for later reached out to the station’s security company, and we gave the guards Narcan training.

Using Narcan: Ever On Call

Now I work at a diner on a really busy street with a lot of drug use. A few weeks ago, someone came in asking for me. I was in the dish pit, but I went out to say hi and they were very short and to-the-point. They asked if I had Narcan. I did, and I gave it to them. Thankfully the person who was overdosing behind the diner ended up okay.

People love to throw Narcan around as some kind of solution to the drug war, which it isn’t. The real solution is a safe and regulated drug supply. But Narcan is a beautiful resource that is free and legal and can easily save someone’s life. Why wouldn’t you carry it?

Even more wise words. No, Narcan isn’t a solution to the drug war. But it is indeed a beautiful resource. So why wouldn’t you carry it? Especially considering the drug is free and legal and can easily save someone’s life.

Using Narcan: It’s Worth the Learn

Healing Properties wholeheartedly applauds Brandon, Dvorah, Rissy and Ruth for their compassion and empathy, as well as their drive to save lives. We also applaud The Guardian’s Alaina Demopoulos for shedding light on such a simple yet overlooked part of the overdose discussion. Using Narcan isn’t only easy; it’s a no-brainer. And everybody should be prepared.

Preparedness, of course, requires first having Narcan on hand. Check your local harm reduction providers to see if they’ve got a naloxone distribution program. Some states even have programs that provide Narcan through local pharmacies. Otherwise both GoodRx and can lead you to places that provide free Narcan emergency kits.

So please, make the effort. The life you save may be your own.

Meantime if you or a loved one want to get off the addict-go-round, give us a ring. We’ll help you stop spinning your wheels pronto. No foolin.’

Image: Courtesy former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr

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