Fighting heroin one injection at a time

Caroline Kacena will go anywhere to push her drug of choice.

She’ll hang out at a neighborhood Caribou Coffee or Starbucks. She will meet you in a restaurant; or in a quiet corner of the library. She will even sit at her own kitchen table, just a few feet from the upstairs bedroom where, in July of 2012, she discovered her 20-year-old son John dead from a heroin overdose.

Yes, Carolina Kacena will go just about anywhere to teach you how to inject Naloxone so you never have to experience the grief her family has endured.

This Naperville mom, a special education aid in Indian Prairie School District, is one of just a couple of people in the Fox Valley who have been trained to teach others in the use of this anti-overdose wonder drug that law enforcement and addiction experts describe as a powerful weapon in the battle against skyrocketing heroin deaths in our communities.

Naloxone is simple to administer. It is as harmless as saline. But it can literally saves the life of someone overdosing on opiates because it reverses the suffocating affect the narcotic has on the body’s vital organs.

Kacena, who estimates she’s trained at least 100 people since last May when she began NaloxoneOutreach, says she knows of at least eight people who are alive today because of that training.

She also knows one who did not survive … last summer … a tragedy that still haunts her today.

“We tried to get together a couple of times but she couldn’t make it,” Kacena said of the mother of an addict who had to cancel after setting up an appointment.

The following morning after another attempt to meet had failed, the woman found her son dead.

“I can’t help but feel I could have done more,” says Kacena. “That’s why I train them as soon as I can because I don’t know what their circumstances are. There is a concern someone could overdose that night.”

When I caught up with Kacena on Wednesday to find out more about how Naloxone is used, she was training another Naperville mom, Jill Kapson, whose son Jack, now a student at College of DuPage, was one of the teenage creators of the documentary “Neuqua on Drugs” that garnered so much attention when it was shown to a community in denial a couple years ago.

Kapson, a licensed clinical social worker who is a recovering alcoholic, is well aware of the power of addiction. And although she does not personally know of heroin users, she says “I never want to be in a position where I was not capable of saving a life.”

The push to make Naloxone a household word is growing, even as overdoses also rise.

The number of young users is not necessarily growing, noted Dr. Thomas Wright, teenage addiction specialist for Rosecrance Health Network. “But the number of kids dying from it is going up.”

That’s what propels advocates like Kacena to push Naloxone every chance they get.

While some contend making this drug available is enabling the addict, proponents rightfully argue that addiction is no different than any other disease; and making this anti-overdose drug available is no different than having an EpiPen in your medicine cabinet to counteract an allergic reaction.

“There is a risk that our kids can get into something dangerous,” says Kacena. “It is better to be safe than sorry. When you have someone struggling with opiate addiction, it is one more tool that is a precautionary measure to keep them alive.”

The training is not complicated. After explaining more clearly what addiction does to the brain, Kacena showed Kapson a video that featured a real overdose situation; and a reenactment that demonstrated the proper way to respond, including how to position the body and breathe into the victim’s mouth.

Kapson practiced filling the needle herself with Naloxone; then shooting it back into the bottle to replicate the muscle of someone overdosing.

If you want more training detail, go to beaconnews.suntimes.com and check out the video of this training session. More information can also be found at Stopoverdoseil.org; or on Facebook at Open Hearts Open Eyes.

Most law enforcement leaders I’ve spoken to over the last year share the alarm addiction and medical specialists express when it comes to opiate overdoses. In a recent conversation I had with Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez, he called heroin one of the “most pressing issues” facing his department.

“We’ve got to fight back any way we can,” he said

Fighting back is just what Kacena and her “Brigade of Moms” is doing (contact her at 815-786-4079) as they join other community leaders in getting the word out about Naloxone.

“We have trucks that drive around distributing this to the homeless. Yet we don’t have it available to our kids,” she said. “That has got to change.”

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