On days when Michele Jones isn’t teaching music, she distributes Narcan to anyone who requests it — oftentimes riding her bike to a discreet location, or having people pick up Narcan at her home.
Narcan is the brand name for the drug naloxone, which can treat narcotic overdose in an emergency situation by acting as an opioid antagonist.
The drug binds to opioid receptors, and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. “It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website.
Although there are a variety of pharmaceutical companies that produce naloxone, Narcan is made to be user-friendly — it is needle-free, and is injected into the nostril with no assembly required. Naloxone is a nonscheduled (nonaddictive), prescription medication that only works if a person has opioids in their system; the medication has no effect if opioids are absent.
In many cases that she has seen, Jones said, Narcan is necessary when someone uses heroin that has been mixed with Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to NIDA.
But, according to Jones, Narcan isn’t just used to reverse overdoses for people who use intravenous drugs or other opioids. “I can think of an instance where a woman friend of mine was seeing someone, and that person slipped something into her drink, ostensibly, to make her more compliant. It killed her,” Jones said.
For Jones, delivering Narcan on request is just part of her goal to get the medicine in every local household, business, and portable medkit, so that folks are prepared should an overdose happen.
According to Jones, anyone who wants Narcan can message her on Facebook, and she will arrange a place to meet. She noted that Narcan is heat-sensitive, and has an expiration date, so people are often looking for refills after the medicine expires.
Because of the ongoing pandemic, Jones isn’t delivering directly to many homes, but is instead having folks come to her driveway to pick up Narcan, or meeting them or dropping a couple of doses off at discreet locations. “Sometimes they pull up and I go out with a mask and stuff on, and hand it to them, or I will get a call from someone asking me to leave it in a discreet location like an alley near their home for them to pick up,” Jones said. “Just letting people know that Narcan is always available, and that people really care.”
But Jones is far from the only Narcan resource on Martha’s Vineyard.
Anyone can purchase Narcan directly from their pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. In some instances, receiving Narcan is free, with no copay required.
Health Imperatives in Vineyard Haven also stocks Narcan from the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod (ASGCC) — where Jones gets her Narcan.
The delivery initiative started two summers ago, when Jones received harm-reduction training and started an Islanders Talk Facebook campaign offering Narcan to anyone who messaged her.
Jones said many folks who use opioids want to remain anonymous, otherwise they could be in danger of losing their housing. “There are places where if it was publicized people were living in these places, the landlord would probably come under extreme scrutiny by town bodies of one sort or another,” Jones said. “Those people could very easily lose the roof over their heads.”
By having consistent, zero-judgment access to Narcan, Jones said, people are more likely to request it, and use it if the need arises.
“We don’t want people to feel afraid, we don’t want them to feel isolated or alone when facing these challenges,” Jones said.
As Narcan becomes more widely available in communities across Massachusetts, Jones said, many folks are including the medicine in their portable medical kit, or in their homes and businesses. “Especially younger people these days, that hesitancy to get Narcan is a lot less, whether they know someone who uses opioids or not,” she said.
Even for folks who aren’t regularly around someone who is suffering from addiction, it’s important to have Narcan available for an unanticipated situation.
“You might pull up into a parking space at Stop & Shop, and someone pulls in and they are having a hard time driving because they are not well, and are potentially putting themselves in danger. Maybe you have an opportunity to help that person,” Jones said.
After being exposed to drug use in the music industry, and seeing drug-related deaths occur in her own life, Jones has an appreciation for how deadly overdoses are, and how essential it is to have Narcan on hand.
“I look back at some of the most brilliant musicians and performers I’ve been influenced by. Jimi Hendrix died of drugs and alcohol, and he was the most wonderful person in the entire world, so how could this happen?” Jones said. “The fact of the matter is that these are some of our brightest and most special people, and we need to support them.”
To pair with the Good Samaritan Law public service announcement that was filmed recently, Jones said there will be a Narcan training video that will be appropriate for a broad range of ages, and will be made available in both English and Brazilian Portuguese.
“I really don’t think I’m doing anything special. I’m just trying to get as much Narcan out into the community as possible,” Jones said.