The walls are covered in posters – pictures of babies nursing at the breast alongside a photograph of a woman and the words: Sister, Mother, Friend, Addict.
It’s the office of Princeton’s public health unit, located in the same building as the hospital on Ridgewood Drive, at the back. To get there you follow the parking lot past the Cascade Medical Clinic and down the hill.
The receptionist is on the phone, head bent over the desk taking notes, so there is opportunity for a first time visitor to look around, and also to work up some nerves.
She finishes and looks up with a friendly smile, asks how she can help me.
I want a Naloxone kit, and I heard you can get them here.
She smiles again, says “Absolutely,” and directs to me to the public health nurse’s office.
Nobody asks for my name, or where I live, or who my doctor is, or anything about my health.
The only question the nurse has is if the kit is for myself, or for someone I am concerned about.
And I fumble that one. Just don’t know how to answer honestly.
She brings out a kit – it’s about the size and shape of a hard cover pencil case – and spreads out all the pieces on the counter.
There are brief directions and pictures on the inside cover, a plastic mask that can be employed to safely give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, gloves, alcohol pads, three needles and three tiny bottles of Naloxone.
I am getting hands on training. The nurse helps me uncap all the tools and draw the drug up into the syringe.
This is helpful, because when it comes to syringes my knowledge is limited to administering Baby Tylenol and that was a long time ago
It takes about five minutes and throughout we are chatting and it’s more comfortable than one could imagine.
The hard part is at the end – confession time. Because this is an experiment and I’ve been deceptive.
Two weeks ago I had a conversation with a person in the community who uses drugs, and when I asked why he doesn’t have a Naloxone kit he said it would be too embarrassing to ask for one.
That got me thinking about whether that fear stops other people from obtaining this free, lifesaving, medicine.
After all, it’s a small town.
It’s small town that has experienced at least eight fatal overdoses or deaths by Fentanyl poisoning in the past two years.
It made me wonder what it feels like, to go to the public health unit, at the back of the hospital.
For the record, it’s about as stressful as walking into a coffee shop and ordering a Latte.
Possibly the thing that impressed me most was what happened when I eventually told the nurse my name, and that I work at the newspaper.
She said: Oh yes, I recognized you.
She did. Yet in that room I was anonymous and everything was done to protect my confidentiality and dignity.
If you are a drug user, if you have a friend or family member who uses drugs, don’t let secrecy or shame keep you from getting Naloxone.
It would be awful to watch someone die of embarrassment.
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