The four students had been trained in substance use, addiction and overdose education — prominent areas of focus at the School of Medicine. Georgetown’s curriculum requires that graduates earn a practitioner waiver to administer, dispense and prescribe buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat opioid use disorder, to better care for at-risk patients. The Hoya Drug Overdose Prevention & Education (DOPE) Project also provides medical students with the opportunity to host community education sessions on opioid overdose and training on naloxone, the opioid reversal medication commonly known as NARCAN.
On a routine trip to the grocery store, Chandran, Wang and Watson were faced with putting their opioid overdose education and training to the test.
A grocery run turned life-saving event
From the car window, they saw a man being carried across the pavement. He looked visibly blue, and without hesitation, they veered off onto a one-way street to help.
Wang and Watson jumped out of the car, armed with a box of NARCAN they had been trained to keep on hand, and approached the man. The medical students called 911 and immediately began the overdose intervention protocol, administering a first and then second dose of the reversal medication.
“Without NARCAN on hand, in the 10 minutes of waiting for the EMTs to arrive, it is likely the man we found may not have survived,” said Wang. “Saving his life was a really impactful moment for all of us.”
Chandran, who arrived on scene after parking the car, worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in college and was more accustomed to witnessing overdose events. “Unexpectedly responding to a near fatal overdose in our own backyard inspired us to develop a harm-reduction strategy to get naloxone into the hands of community members and to decrease overdose related deaths and usage in DC,” she said.
Empowering bystanders to save lives
For the Georgetown Public Policy Challenge, Chandran, Kobres, Wang and Watson proposed installing NaloxBox, a weather-proof opioid rescue kit, at bus stops in Wards 5, 7 and 8 to help mitigate the impact of DC’s opioid epidemic. Each carefully-designed kit includes naloxone so that bystander rescuers can easily access and administer the drug to victims of opioid overdose.
They even sought advice from Geoff Capraro, MD, MPH, a co-founder of NaloxBox. “Our shared goal is to shorten the time between an overdose and administering naloxone,” said Watson. “NaloxBox has deployed 1,800 rescue kits nationally, and we believe it could be successfully implemented in DC.”