SHRP Brings OD Prevention Training to Sarasota

Todays News


On Tuesday night, the Suncoast Harm Reduction Project (SHRP), a local addiction advocacy and activism group, held its first Community Overdose Prevention and Response Training at the Bayside Community Church in Sarasota. Working under the guidance of Dr. Mark Sylvester, a local psychiatrist and addiction specialist, SHRP trained community members in how to use naloxone, an opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of overdose from substances like heroin, fentanyl and prescription pain pills.

Held in the church’s youth group space, a venue that between its all-black walls, high-tech AV equipment and reclaimed wood paneling looks more befitting of a indie rock show than an overdose prevention demonstration, the event was attended by close to forty community members. At one point, children attending the event threw a ball through a mini hoop while their parents attentively observed Dr. Sylvester demonstrating the workings of a talking auto-injector.

The training occurs in the wake of the Florida Emergency Treatment and Recovery Act of 2015, which permits health care providers to prescribe naloxone to those who are either at risk of overdosing or know someone who is. An amendment, effective July 1 of this year, will further increase naloxone access and make obtaining the drug as simple as procuring a flu shot at your local pharmacy and will not require a prior prescription.

“My hope for this week is to save a life. To educate,” said Sylvester. Also known as Narcan, naloxone is a critical tool in stopping opioid overdoses, and he believes that naloxone training should be treated as a responsible, routine preventative measure. Between 1996 and 2014, 26,400 overdose reversals were performed. “If you find your loved one blue, you need to [know how to] act,” said Sylvester. Naloxone access is critical in Manatee County, where opioid abuse has been ruled an epidemic and where, in 2014, the Florida Medical Examiners’ Commission found the most heroin, fentanyl and cocaine-related overdose deaths per capita in the entire state.

SHRP emphasizes Harm Reduction, an approach to substance abuse focused on “treat[ing] addictive illness in a pragmatic, health-orientated way,” according to lead organizer Julia Negron, and moving the conversation “away from punitive measures and incarceration and into the public health arena.” A Certified Addiction Specialist, Negron brings thirty years of experience to her advocacy work, and testified in Tallahassee last year in support of increased naloxone access. For Negron, a recovering addict herself, the issue hits home: both her mother and sister died of overdoses, and her son has struggled with addiction.

"The one and only thing naloxone does is save lives,” said Negron. “We just need to start by saving lives. You hear it over and over again. There’s no recovery if you’re dead.”

Photo: Julia Negron, lead organizer of Suncoast Harm Reduction Project, at Tuesday night's training.

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