PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Dennis Bailer remembers thinking it was strange when a regular of Project Weber/RENEW’s hadn’t accompanied her boyfriend on a visit one January day; the pair typically appeared together.
“She didn’t come in at all, so I had an idea to go check the bathroom,” Bailer explained.
Bailer, in recovery himself, now works as the manager for the organization’s drop-in center, which offers free services like needle exchanges and HIV testing. When he went to check the restroom, he immediately spotted the woman.
“There she was, on her knees, face down, underneath the sink,” Bailer recalled.
The woman was overdosing. Bailer said her mouth was turning blue and a gurgling sound escaped from her throat. She was unresponsive.
Bailer had someone call 911 and sprang into action, the training he’d received from the Miriam Hospital’s Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI) program kicking in.
He grabbed a naloxone injectable kit from the center’s supply, and injected the overdose antidote into the woman’s veins, rubbing her sternum afterwards as he’d been trained. The woman remained unresponsive.
So Bailer repeated the process, administering a second dose of naloxone. Finally, she regained consciousness.
“It just wasn’t her time to go,” Bailer said. “God put me in the right place and put her in the right place, and things worked out in her favor, fortunately, but if it weren’t for the fact that I was able to access Narcan, it’s tough to say what the outcome might have been.”
Naloxone, often referred to by its brand name, Narcan, is available without a prescription at pharmacies across Rhode Island.
Jeremy Blais is a CVS pharmacist in East Greenwich and said more people have been coming in to get the drug, something he attributes to broader awareness of the drug’s availability, and the growing opioid epidemic.
Naloxone comes in two forms, the more popular nasal spray that goes for $95 a bottle, and a less-expensive $38 injectable version. Blais said most insurance providers cover naloxone, and in most cases the copay is under $10.
Signs at the pharmacy counter of Blais’ CVS store liken naloxone to a first aid kit, saying, “you never intend to use it, but should consider having it on hand for emergencies.”
“It’s more about the urgency of the situation,” Blais explained. “So, if someone is having a heart attack you need an AED. If someone’s having an allergic reaction you need an EpiPen. Most of these people, if they’re having an overdose most likely won’t make it until an ambulance gets to them.”
Bailer knows firsthand how crucial immediate access to naloxone can be. He said when he treated the woman in January, first responders arrived shortly after he revived her, but he’s still unsure if she would have survived the ordeal had he not intervened.
“It just feels good to know that it’s available,” Bailer said. “I’m glad I was able to be in the right place at the right time.”