Northampton first in county to install outdoor Narcan boxes

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 09-07-2023 5:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Two small cabinets installed in downtown’s Pulaski Park may be the key to preventing overdose deaths in the city, the latest in the city’s attempt to combat deaths resulting from opioid complications.

Inside the cabinets, one finds three rows of small boxes, kits containing the drug Narcan, with instructions posted on how to administer the drug to prevent a potentially fatal overdose.

The two Narcan cabinets, the first of their kind in Hampshire County, were installed in the park on Aug. 31 as part of the city’s commemoration of International Overdose Awareness Day. One cabinet is located near the bus stop along Main Street and the other is at the back of the park near the entrance to a bike path.

Each cabinet holds nine kits, with each kit containing two doses of nasal spray, meaning Narcan can be administered 18 times before the cabinets need to be refilled by the city. Within the first week, eight total Narcan kits have been restocked, according to Taylor McAndrew, the coordinator at Hampshire HOPE.

McAndrew said the centralized location of Pulaski Park, as well as previous incidents of overdose that have happened in the park, make it an ideal location to set up the cabinets.

“It was really a community member who was talking to Tapestry staff about how they were concerned about folks in the park who had overdosed,” McAndrew said. “So the staff at Tapestry reached out to me, as someone working for the city, and said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could get some of these boxes?’”

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The installation of the cabinets is the result of a collaboration between Tapestry and several coalitions within the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, including Hampshire HOPE, the Drug Addiction and Recovery Team, or DART, and the newly formed Division of Community Care.

McAndrew said the cabinets served two main purposes: for active bystanders to be able to assist someone experiencing an overdose, or if someone wants to obtain Narcan but lacks the funds or fears the social stigma to purchase it at a pharmacy.

“The cabinet can serve as a low barrier access point, where someone could take the Narcan and stick it in their backpack or purse, and then use it for a loved one or a family friend needing it,” she said.

Over the five-year span from 2018 to 2022, 48 Northampton residents have died as a result of opioids, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In 2022, there were 2,357 opioid-related overdose deaths across the state, a 2% increase from the previous year, although the number of overdose deaths in Hampshire County fell in the same year.

The city has also purchased two additional Narcan cabinets to install at locations to be determined. According to McAndrew, the city will wait to see how the two cabinets in Pulaski Park fare before deciding where and when to install the next two.

Funding for the cabinets came from previous grant money accumulated by the city health department. Similar cabinets have also been installed in other parts of the state, including in neighboring Berkshire County, according to McAndrews. The Narcan is free provided by the state through the Community Naloxone Purchasing Program.

First formed in 2015, Hampshire HOPE is an opioid prevention coalition within the Northampton health department, working to reduce opioid use as well as reduce the risk of death from overdosing. Although run out of the Northampton city government, Hampshire HOPE provides its services across Hampshire County.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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