Foundation 45 isn’t telling people to not do drugs. “That’s not our jam,” says Lauren O’Connor, the nonprofit’s executive director. Instead, the local mental health organization wants to educate people on “how to be safe and responsible and how you can help your friends.” That’s what organizers plan to do at Foundation 45’s upcoming Narcan Happy Hour.
On Thursday, May 4, Foundation 45 will host a free 21-and-up info session at Three Links in Deep Ellum on how to use Narcan, a life-saving medication that can reverse opioid overdoses. It plans to give out 150 units. At the event, organizers hope to create a safe space for attendees to ask questions and share their own experiences. Talking about overdosing is still stigmatized, O’Connor says.
“So many people are like, ‘hush, hush.’” And, if they know Narcan exists, many don’t have access to it.
Naloxone is often referred to as Narcan, the first drug of its kind to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The nasal spray can stop the effects of an opioid-related overdose, like fentanyl, heroin, or oxycodone, as it’s happening. “It breaks the cycle of the receptors in the brain,” O’Connor says, “and pulls them out of having that overdose.” Narcan nasal spray was first approved as a prescription medicine by the FDA in 2015. This past March, the FDA approved it as an over-the-counter drug.
Knowing how to use naloxone is sorely needed by the community, O’Connor says. “People that are coming to our [support] groups are telling us people are dying in house parties, people are overdosing on like a Friday night.”
In the past few years, the opioid crisis has grown at alarming rates across the U.S. and in Texas. Between September 2022 and February 1, 2023, nine Carrollton teenagers overdosed on fentanyl-laced pills, three of whom died. The children’s ages ranged 13 to 17. From December 2021 through November 2022, there were 78,333 opioid overdose deaths across the U.S., and 2,932 in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is likely higher, the federal agency notes.
O’Connor, whose close friend died of a heroin overdose 20 years ago, says this is her worst nightmare. But, as naloxone becomes more available, the Foundation 45 team has been hearing stories about Narcan saving lives. The amount of Dallas Fire-Rescue-administered Narcan doses increased more than 50 percent between 2020 and 2022, according to a Dallas Morning News report.
In addition to teaching people how to use naloxone, the two-hour Narcan Happy Hour will teach guests how to identify symptoms of an opioid overdose. It’s not a dramatic thing like you see on TV, O’Connor says. “Somebody sleeping on the couch can be having an overdose.” The main symptoms to watch for, she says, are blue lips, unresponsiveness, shallow breathing, and unconsciousness. Other symptoms include gurgling and shrunken pupils. (Learn more about symptoms here.) Overdoses happen quickly, but naloxone can and should be administered at any point, and 911 should be called.
The happy hour will also teach people about their legal rights. The Texas House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize fentanyl test strips last month. The legislation is currently stalled in a Senate committee. With less than a month remaining in the legislative session, advocates worry that the bill won’t make it to the floor for a final vote.
The strips can identify if a drug is laced with fentanyl, a dangerously potent synthetic opioid, but they are still illegal to possess in Texas. The state also doesn’t have a Good Samaritan law. That means if someone has a record and calls 911 for an overdose, they could face punishment, O’Connor says. But, there are some bystander protections for people who call for help—“always call 911,” she says.
The event will also bring in other mutual aid organizations, like Livegy, and Foundation 45 counseling resources. Founded by Anthony Delabano in 2014 after two of his bandmates died by suicide, Foundation 45 provides free mental health services, including licensed counselors; a suicide hotline; and free support groups for the local music and art community. It is a community that often “doesn’t have access to funds, or they don’t have access to resources or insurance,” O’Connor says.
If all goes well at Thursday’s Narcan Happy Hour, O’Connor says they plan to do another, specifically for parents. But for now, they’re focused on raising awareness about Narcan and creating a safe space for people to come learn how to protect themselves and others.
“We just want people to be armed with the knowledge to continue to live,” she says.
May 4. 6–8 p.m. Free. Age 21 and up. Three Links, 2704 Elm St. Learn more here.