Why I Hand Out Drug Overdose Kits

Sep 9, 2020

In this guest blog from Lieutenant Karen Felton of the Midwest Corps Community Center, she shares the deeply personal reason she distributes Naloxone, a medication (commonly known as Narcan) designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose, to as many people as she can.

Some friendships should not work. The two people are far too different. But somehow Emily and I made it work. She was all punk rock, black clothing, tattoos, and piercings, and I was a divorced mom of three who was taking a full load of college courses and working two jobs. We were night and day.

Emily was a server at a place where I would go to escape my loneliness and where I could just sit and do my homework. The first time she served me, she gave me so much attitude I was scared of her. I finally asked her about her tattoos to try to break the freeze, and her eyes lit up as she started to tell me what each of them meant.

After that, we looked forward to seeing each other and we would talk in between her other customers. Our friendship was solidified in the way that sharing your life stories can do. Emily had a difficult past; she was clean from heroin and determined to stay that way.

Over time, I stopped going to that place because I graduated and got a new job at The Salvation Army’s Divisional Headquarters. Periodically, we would check in and she would be sure to tell me she was still clean.

Until the day she was not.

I woke up one Monday morning to a phone call from my daughter telling me she had heard that Emily had died the night before from an opiate overdose. I could not grasp what I was hearing. I hung up with my daughter and reached out to one of Emily’s friends. Apparently, Emily had decided to go out for just one more, and just one more was one too many.

What hurt me the most was finding out that she had died with five other people in the house. When the paramedics arrived, they tried to give her two doses of Naloxone, but it was too late. If that house or the people in it had had Naloxone, they could have saved her life.

On the day of her funeral, I decided that I would find a way to make sure that as many people as I could reach would have Naloxone. Therefore, I began Project Emily. The goal was to provide free Naloxone to the opiate dependent and their families and friends.

When I left to go The Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training (CFOT), I turned the project over to a friend. (Although I kept a good supply of Naloxone and was able to train and provide it to the bars around CFOT.)

When I arrived at the Midwest Corps Community Center and started our mobile feeding program, I discovered that our community has a huge issue with opiate dependency. In fact, I regularly visit an entire tent city that is home to opiate users. This realization awoke in me a fresh determination to equip people with the means to save others from overdoses.

Many people do not understand why it is “good” to hand out overdose kits. They feel it is condoning drug use. The reason I do it is multi-faceted and complicated, but primarily because it is incredibly hard to detox from opiates. The sickness is so strong that many people do not have the strength to fight the symptoms and therefore go back to heroin.

Secondly, until someone is ready, they will not quit. But we can keep them alive until they are ready. In social work, we call this harm reduction, but for me, as a Salvation Army officer, it is Doing the Most Good. Our founder William Booth went into communities, identified the “social ill,” and evaluated how the Army could help. It was in this vein that “soup, soap, and salvation” was born.

In our community, the need is there. We can help the opiate addicted. I want to meet them where they are. I want them to know they are seen and loved, and that they matter. I want to keep them safe and alive, and to leave the door open for hope.  

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