Drug scourge prompts public Narcan training

Health department distributing life-saving medication, teaching people how to use it as opioids claim more victims
Ozaukee Press staff

In Ozaukee County, it wasn’t all that long ago that drug use was thought to be confined to marijuana and overdoses something only to be found in large, urban areas.

But today drugs are a fact of life and overdoses so common that authorities and the community are being asked to do something that was once considered unthinkable — arm themselves with Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of opioids such as fentanyl and save people who are overdosing and once would have died.

“Five years ago, I don’t think anybody would have said let’s hand out Narcan,” Ashley Claussen, a public health strategist with the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department, said. “It’s become something people see as important. It should be in all first aid kits, it’s that essential.”

Ozaukee County Sheriff Christy Knowles said Tuesday that this is a sign of the times.

“It’s an unfortunate sign of the times. People can come in contact with fentanyl without knowing it,” she said, and that can be deadly. “The smallest amount can put you in an overdose.”

Fentanyl has become so common and is so potent that anyone who comes across it, even if they don’t realize it, can be affected, Knowles said, adding that’s why she supports having Narcan readily available.

People can go into a bathroom and touch a surface with fentanyl residue on it and overdose, she said. If they try to help someone who has overdosed and come in contact with the drug, they can be affected.

“You see something on the ground you want to throw away, you pick it up and you can be affected,” Knowles said.

Bills are pending in the state Legislature that would mandate that Narcan be kept in all schools, and a workshop to help the public identify overdoses and train people in the use of Narcan is being held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 5, at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Grafton.

“It’s just another way for us to keep the members of our congregation and our community safe,” Pastor Ashley Nolte said.  “It’s something we take very seriously. A life is a life. I believe they’re all worth saving.

“Whether folks in Grafton, Cedarburg and Mequon want to admit it, heroin and opioids are a problem. It’s heartbreaking.”

Fentanyl is a powerful drug, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine that even in small doses can be deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Its presence is almost ubiquitous, Claussen, who will present Monday’s program at Pilgrim Church, said.

“It’s present in almost everything,” she said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if someone bought weed (marijuana) and it was in it.

“The fact is people don’t know. They buy things they think are Percoset or other drugs and they’re getting fentanyl. It’s really scary.”

On New Year’s Day, a Port Washington woman walking her dog near Port Washington High School reported to police that her pet almost ate a cellophane packet on the sidewalk — a packet with a white powder inside that tested positive for fentanyl.

In early May, four Grafton residents overdosed on cocaine laced with fentanyl that they took after a night of drinking as they celebrated a 32-year-old man’s birthday. One of the men, 28-year-old Nick Hamilton, died the following day. The other three recovered after being administered Narcan, a drug that rapidly reverses opioid overdoses.

“I would 100% recommend that everyone be trained in this,” Claussen said.  “My suggestion is everyone should have Narcan on hand — you’re better safe than sorry.

“We’re seeing such an epidemic. In the last two years, even the last six months, I’ve seen a ton more people carrying it.”

The health department has been distributing Narcan since January 2022, she said.

“At first, it was hit or miss,” Claussen said, adding that last year the health department handed out 185 boxes of Narcan — each of which has two doses — in Washington and Ozaukee counties.

This year, she said, the department has distributed 121 boxes, which puts it on track to double the number of boxes it handed out in 2022.

Those picking up Narcan “range from individual community members to a couple of organizations and businesses that want to keep it on hand,” Claussen said, adding, there are plenty of parents giving Narcan to their children because they know their friends are experimenting with drugs.

“You never know when it will be needed,” she said

Nolte said the church has Narcan on hand, and when she mentioned it to her staff they asked for a program to train them in its use. Monday’s program is the result.

“We have members of the congregation who have been affected by opioid addiction,” she said. “It (Narcan) doesn’t solve problems like fentanyl.”

But, she said, it can keep someone alive until they decide to tackle their addiction.

Knowles noted that the Sheriff’s Office has Narcan in all its first aid kits and automatic external defibrillator boxes, and deputies have immediate access to the drug.

“If someone goes down, you have it,” she said, adding that it may take multiple doses several minutes apart to revive someone.

And even if they aren’t suffering from an overdose, she said, Narcan won’t hurt them.

“The side effects of Narcan are slim to none,” Knowles said.

Knowles noted that so far this year the county has responded to eight overdose calls, two of them fatal, and arrested 58 people for narcotics violations. These numbers only reflect calls received by the Sheriff’s Office, not municipal police departments, and they don’t reflect non-fatal overdoses when people don’t call 911.

“Every year, our numbers are getting larger,” Knowles said, noting the county responded to an overdose call on Monday. “It’s a big problem.”

Claussen noted that some people  worry that having Narcan on hand is seen by drug users as a failsafe that will protect them from the deadly impact of drugs.

“People say its a Band Aid,” she said. “But if someone’s bleeding out, you’re not going to let them bleed. You’re going to give them a bandage.

“We have to look at this as a humanity thing. We want to keep them alive until they’re in a place to ask for the help they need.”

Narcan may revive many people who are overdosing, but it isn’t a solution to the opioid problem, Knowles said.

“Narcan does save lives,” Knowles said. “If you know of someone with drug issues, have Narcan but also provide them with the resources to help them recover. Narcan isn’t the end all. We have to get to the cause.”

For more information or to register for the Narcan training program at Pilgrim Church, call (262) 377-2640. Narcan will be available at the event. The church is at 1621 Second Ave.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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