Tragedy averted at the Lighthouse as seven residents survive overdoses
Over a hundred people have taken naloxone training through the Lighthouse in Saskatoon
Two support workers at the Lighthouse weren't expecting to respond to multiple medical crises on a weekday night shift, but luckily they had both the training and lifesaving medication to do just that.
It was the start of the night shift on Jan. 28 — support worker Brianne Hergott had come in to work her shift at the front desk, while her colleague Ursula Serendipity was getting ready to head home.
"We were sitting at the front desk talking, and this girl comes down from the independent living tower," said Hergott. "She was screaming and crying … and she starts saying that her uncles were dying and they were overdosing. So me and Ursula just grabbed all the naloxone we had in the back and ran up with her.
"And we walked in and just saw six bodies on the floor, all unconscious."
By the time they arrived, Hergott said it was clear the six people needed immediate help.
"Their lips were turning blue," she said. "They were losing colour in their faces and they were either shallow breathing or not breathing at all."
So the support workers sprang into action with their naloxone kits.
Naloxone, also also known as Narcan, helps counter the effects of opioid overdose. It is a temporary fix — it wears off in 20-90 minutes after being injected — but it can buy lifesaving time. Hergott and Serendipity both received their naloxone training at the Lighthouse, along with over a hundred of the residents and their fellow staff members.
And Serendipity says her training served her well last Thursday night.
"We worked in a circle and kind of went around and gave people what they needed, made sure they were coming to and starting to breathe again and making sure they were OK and stable," she said. "We got an ambulance called right at the beginning, so the EMS and the paramedics showed up quite quickly after that.
"But we were up there for quite a while by ourselves, just making sure that everyone was getting better and starting to breathe and live again."
At the same time as Serendipity and Hergott were administering naloxone to those six people, a seventh Lighthouse resident also overdosed in a different part of the facility, and was given naloxone by a fellow resident.
'It's their house'
According to Lighthouse fundraising and communications manager Anna Pacik, all seven overdoses happened in the Lighthouse's independent living facility.
"We have a lot of supported living programs where we might have some more rules, but on the independent living side, it's their house," she said.
People in the independent living facilities can access the Lighthouse's services like the meal program, the clinic and the front desk staff, but don't have to follow rules about substance use in their homes.
Pacik also said that anybody who has been trained in how to use naloxone can carry a kit at the Lighthouse. Serendipity is clear about what would have happened if they had not had the medication on hand that night:
"I can guarantee that there would have been more deaths," she said. "We are lucky that no one died that night. If we had not had the training, and not been there as soon as we could have been, they probably would have all died and it would have been a citywide tragedy."
And after this experience, Hergott is encouraging everyone to learn how to use naloxone and carry it with them.
"I'm so thankful for naloxone, and I think many opiate users are as well, because we're talking about people's friends and family and loved ones," she said. "I think we're very blessed that we have naloxone.
"I always keep it in my backpack, just because I never know what I'm going to encounter, and I could save a person's life."
With files from Emily Pasiuk and Saskatoon Morning