Retired firefighter/paramedic continues to save lives

CLEWISTON — The U.S. government has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, there were approximately 42,000 deaths in the U.S. due to opioid overdose. The U.S. is responsible for use of 95% of opioids in the world, but Americans make up just 5% of the population.

Lake Okeechobee News/Danika J. Hopper
CLEWISTON – Luis Garcia taught a free two-hour course, about how and when to administer Narcan nasal spray, in Clewiston on Jan. 30.

“After 28 years as a firefighter and paramedic, and responding to thousands of 911 calls for people who had overdosed, I learned about the FDA approved nasal spray called Narcan that literally brings people back from the dead minutes after they stop breathing, with no side effects,” said Luis Garcia, a retired firefighter/paramedic from Boynton Beach. He is a man who has always been passionate about saving lives, promoting positivity, and destroying stigmas that surround substance abuse disorder. Upon finding out that statistics had dramatically climbed to the loss of 140 people a day, or around one person every 10 minutes, to an opioid overdose, he felt compelled to do even more to help. Mr. Garcia and his girlfriend decided to use their $40,000 savings, money that was earmarked to buy his dream car — a luxury SUV — to purchase Narcan (naloxone) nasal spray.

NARCAN Nasal Spray 4mg is the only FDA-approved, needle-free formulation of naloxone for the emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose. Each 4mg dose costs about $50 to $75. As Mr. Garcia explained, 4mg is a repeatedly proven dosage for successful recovery of an opioid overdose, especially from the rapid and acute effects of fentanyl, or its derivatives. Fentanyl overdose is one of the biggest problems when it comes to the opioid crisis. Older naloxone delivery devices are not as effective as they contain less than 1mg of naloxone, and are considerably more expensive.

Lake Okeechobee News/Danika J. Hopper
CLEWISTON – Just a few of the recent participants who received their certification and Narcan nasal spray at the Narcan Administration course recently held in Clewiston.

Mr. Garcia now travels around Florida teaching a free, two-hour training course where participants are taught how and when to properly administer the nasal spray. He volunteers his time and money, as well as uses GoFundMe, in an effort to help reduce the number of deadly overdoses.

In 2018, Luis Garcia was named a “GoFundMe Hero” for his work, raising over $50,000 to purchase and distribute free Narcan which he has done in several states across the country. Recently he received a certificate of appreciation from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, and was also just awarded the 2020 Public Service Heart & Dove Award and received an induction into the Love & Peace Hall of Fame. But he doesn’t do this for awards or recognition. He is truly trying to make a difference, especially when it comes to destroying the powerful, negative perceptions commonly associated with substance use disorder and addiction.

“Stigma has the potential to negatively affect a person’s self-esteem, damage relationships with loved ones, and prevent those suffering from addiction from accessing treatment. Seventy percent of Americans actually get hooked by a lawful prescription,” Mr. Garcia explained. “But, there is still a terrible stigma surrounding drug addiction, and many people are undecided about whether or not Narcan should be readily available or administered.” He goes on to say is virtually benign, and can be given to an adult, child, or even a pet — even if you suspect, but are unsure of whether they are experiencing an opioid overdose.

“Naloxone reverses an opioid overdose. Naloxone works by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain and by restoring breathing. Naloxone will only work if a person has opiates in their system. It will not work with other drugs. A person cannot get “high” from using naloxone, and it is safe for practically anyone to use,” Mr. Garcia said during the class he recently taught in Clewiston. Even after presenting these facts, Mr. Garcia has run into resistance, as many people still disagree with what he is doing as they pass judgment on those suffering from addiction.

“Becoming dependent on drugs can happen to anyone. The three main things that are commonly associated with substance abuse disorder are: possessing a genetic predisposition for addiction, suffering abuse, and/or experiencing a severe traumatic event as a young adult,” said Mr. Garcia, “It’s important to keep in mind that we can all do a better job of decreasing stigma around drug use.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Danika J. Hopper
CLEWISTON – NARCAN, an FDA-approved nasal spray, can counteract the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose.

The judgmental opinions of a few, do not deter Mr. Garcia from this important mission. Committed to further expanding awareness and availability of NARCAN Nasal Spray as a convenient, easy-to-administer emergency treatment, he has gone on to teach 163 courses, and in turn, those courses have enabled participants to go out and save 171 lives, so far.

He shared his personal philosophy on the matter, “We won’t solve addiction,” Mr. Garcia said, “but if we could wipe out the deaths from addiction, shouldn’t we?”

Lake Okeechobee News/Danika J. Hopper
CLEWISTON – Narcan training classes are periodically available to the public for free. Keep an eye on your local community and health events to find the next available classes.

His funding has nearly run out, but he isn’t giving up. He is currently working on forming a 501c3 Nonprofit organization, and he asks, “When was the last time you made a difference? Here’s your chance to do that. Donate now! One-hundred and seventy-one lives have been saved thanks to GoFundMe donors. Every dollar buys Narcan sprays!”

You can find out more by visiting his page on Facebook: USA Opioid Crisis Mortality Reduction with NARCAN or his GoFundMe page.

Emergency protocol for any suspected overdose includes calling 911. However, in the case of opioids, which includes heroin and prescription pain medications like vicodin, oxycontin, percocet and the big killer, fentanyl, and it’s derivatives — naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan) can reverse an overdose if administered within a six to eight minute window, potentially saving a life!

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