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Police Narcan Saves Mass. OD Victim

May 13--It was around 8 p.m. Friday that police, responding to a medical emergency, found a 26-year-old Gloucester man by the commuter rail tracks off Whittemore Street, unconscious and turning blue.

John Walsh's breathing was labored, and he had a fresh needle mark on one of his arms, according to police. Walsh's 24-year-old girlfriend told police that he had just used heroin, and officers found a plastic bag with a telltale brown residue inside.

Walsh was hesitant to recall his drug overdose in an interview with the Times yesterday afternoon. But thanks to police, firefighters, hospital employees near Peabody/Salem line -- and nasal Narcan -- he was able to talk about his ordeal.

"Obviously," he said, "I'm psyched to be alive."

Police administered Narcan to the unconscious Walsh when they arrived on the scene, according to officer Brian Aiello's report. From there, other officers arrived, along with a Fire Department ambulance crew. They administered a second dose of Narcan, which brought Walsh back to consciousness, according to the police report. He was taken to Addison Gilbert Hospital.

Narcan, a brand name for naloxone, temporarily reverses the effects of what could be a fatal drug overdose. When someone takes opiates, the drug attaches to sensory receptors in the brain. Narcan aids by blocking that process and allows someone to breath normally again. After it's used, an overdose victim still needs to get to an emergency room, as Narcan's effects are temporary.

In 2011, Gloucester became the first city in the state to have both police and firefighters carry Narcan.

"What Narcan did for us, it made it easier and safer to manage overdoses," Gloucester's Emergency Medical Services coordinator Sander Schultz said last week."It's a temporary reprieve from an overdose," he added.

Before Narcan, he said, oxygen would be administered on the way to the hospital.

Schultz said with police and firefighters carrying the drug, it has provided crucial time.

"That person's going to start breathing three minutes sooner," Schultz said of anyone experiencing a drug overdose.

Advocates have previously said the opiate antagonist has been responsible for an estimated 2,000 overdose reversals across the state, including several in Gloucester over the last three years. It's also available to friends and family members of opiate addicts through the local Learn to Cope program, which is aided by the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative.

Walsh's girlfriend told police Walsh bought heroin out of town and she was holding it for him, according to the police report, which said she had about 1 1/2 grams on her.

Police initially summonsed Walsh for knowingly being present where heroin is kept, and she was arrested for possession of a class A drug. But the good Samaritan law passed in 2012 protects anyone charged with a minor drug offense when police are responding to a medical-related call.

"A person who, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance ... if the evidence for the charge of possession of a controlled substance was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance," the state law reads. In addition, anyone who is experiencing a drug-related overdose and seeks medical assistance or gets medical assistance also "shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance," the law states.

That was the case Friday, and while both the woman and Walsh were initially charged with crimes, charges were dropped Monday.

The police report does not indicate who made the 911 call, but Walsh said Monday that his girlfriend called 911, and Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney's office, said the complaint against the woman was withdrawn before she was arraigned.

The summons against Walsh, meanwhile, was also withdrawn as he was the recipient of nasal Narcan, according to Gloucester police Chief Leonard Campanello.

Walsh said Monday that before Friday's incident he had been clean for about two years.

"It was a lapse in judgment," he said of the Friday incident.

He said he is now piecing his life back together.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.

Copyright 2014 - Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

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