How Venues Can Help with Harm Reduction
Only a few weeks ago New York became the first state to actively attempt to curb overdose deaths by opening a supervised injection site for drug users. The site will supply clean needles, dispense medicine to reverse overdoses, and offer information and aid for addiction treatment.
Legal and moral debates over authorizing illegal drug use at potential sites continue to postpone openings for centers in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle, cities that have already taken steps toward safe, supervised injection but continue to face resistance from all sides.
According to newly updated data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the US saw an increase in opioid overdoses throughout the duration of the pandemic—more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020, a 29 percent increase from 2019.
In response to hundreds of opioid deaths beginning as early as 2016, Western New York state’s Erie County established the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force. To date, it continues to provide a framework for organizations and individuals to collaborate on opioid overdose education, harm reduction and prevention efforts.
Dr. Gale Burstein, the county’s health commissioner, released important preliminary data at the task force’s Fall quarterly meeting in December.
She noted that changing demographics of the opioid death toll in the past year included more women, black people, and people in their 30s and 40s.
Despite 28 percent of the county’s residents living in Buffalo, NY, 52 percent of opioid overdoses are occurring in the city, according to the task force’s data. Most of the deaths are attributed to illicit fentanyl and Burstein said the county has seen an increase in cocaine/fentanyl deaths.
Honora McCormack is the Marketing and Ticketing Manager at Buffalo, NY’s Town Ballroom. The manager said since reopening the Ballroom earlier this fall, a nurse on the venue’s staff has procured a go-bag for medical emergencies that includes Narcan, the name brand drug of Naloxone, an opioid-overdose medicine.
“I only recently found out about [the opioid epidemic task force] and reached out to see what they could provide to businesses,” she said. In addition to sending Town Ballroom an ‘emergency’ box with 3 boxes of Narcan, Erie County offered to replenish the venue’s emergency supply for free once it is used up.
While the event venue does not currently have an educational program for its staff on proper Naloxone usage nor aftercare and best practices, McCormack said she is taking the initiative to train anyone who is interested in learning more.
“With fentanyl overdoses on the rise, I am terrified of someone accidentally overdosing at our venue and not having had the chance to possibly save their life. Drug use is very closely tied to music and not having it on hand just in case is negligent in my opinion,” said McCormack.
Her advice to club-goers is to test substances twice before ingesting anything and if possible, obtain Naloxone before heading out anywhere where drug use may be prevalent.
McCormack recently reached out to Erie County to potentially coordinate providing harm reduction services at future events at the Town Ballroom.
Given the death toll in drug overdoses, McCormack said she would like to educate event attendees by setting up a harm reduction info station inside the venue, with resources and programming supplied by the county. At the time of this writing, Erie County has not responded to her request.
The county has reported that 5,197 naloxone kits were distributed during the fall quarter via mailing, virtual training, and refills donated through their free naloxone programming.
For anyone interested in learning more, the county continues to offer virtual naloxone training at no cost.