In the United States during 2016, on average 175 people died every day from accidental overdoses from opioid and other illicit and prescription drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This amounts to epidemic proportions of approximately 64,000 people annually.
“Everyone is at risk,” according to Meredith Kerr, scholarship recipient and graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. “It could be a family member, a loved one, or yourself. Anybody that’s prescribed opioids is at risk.”
The prevalence of fentanyl — a much stronger, synthetic, less expensive opioid — is also a significant factor in the logarithmic increases in accidental deaths. Fentanyl-related deaths in Maryland increased 400% from 2015 to 2016.
“Dealers are often mixing it into the heroin supply, and a person with a substance use disorder may not know what they are actually injecting,” explains Kerr, who is also a member of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition.
This volunteer-run organization is dedicated to education, advocacy, and community engagement for non-judgmental ways to reduce potentially harmful consequences of human behavior. For example, they advocate for safe drug consumption spaces, work to remove stigmas that might prevent someone from seeking treatment, and disseminate free Naloxone or Narcan kits, which include sterile syringes along with this overdose reversal agent that knocks the opioid off the receptors in the brain, restoring one’s ability to breathe.
Trainings are scheduled regularly at Hopkins, at churches, and with community groups, but can also be impromptu, one-on-one encounters if Kerr or other volunteers cross paths with someone who could benefit.
“Addiction nursing is my passion,” says Kerr, who adds that receiving a scholarship enabled her to attend the top-ranked School of Nursing. “Without that, I wouldn’t be able to get involved in any of the opportunities that are here.”
Having already completed clinical rotations in areas like psychiatry and neuro-epilepsy as part of the Master of Science in Nursing Program, Kerr plans to continue her education after she earns this degree in 2018 and become a nurse practitioner, ultimately working in an outpatient community clinic while still focusing on addiction issues.
“It’s an area that needs a lot more help in Baltimore, and I want to help as many people as I can in my city,” she says.
Topics: School of Nursing, Promote and Protect Health, Support Scholars