Editor’s Note: The following is Part 1 of a 5-part series published in September by the Cortland Voice, partner of the Ithaca Voice, exploring issues of drug and alcohol addiction in Cortland.

The stories were written by Cortland Voice Editor Pete Blanchard and will be republished here this week.

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CORTLAND, N.Y. – In an effort to curb incidents of drug overdoses caused by prescription medication and heroin abuse, the Cortland County Health Department will soon offer walk-in hours for members of the public interested in being trained to use Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Last year, the county health department received state approval to operate an Opioid Overdose Prevention Program. The program will allow the health department to train individuals on how to properly respond to suspected overdoses, including the administration of naloxone.

Naloxone, more commonly referred to as Narcan, has been used by first responders to reverse the effects of an overdose. The drug works by blocking heroin and other opioid receptors in the brain for 30 to 90 minutes, according to the New York State Health Department.

Catherine Feuerherm, public health director for Cortland County, says the county health department has begun training staff to use Narcan and will soon offer walk-in hours to people who are interested in being trained to administer the drug.

“Anytime we hear of a death by overdose, it goes to show that Narcan is not where it needs to be,” Feuerherm said. “It needs to be readily available when someone overdoses.”

Feuerherm says the intent of the health department’s program is to both prevent overdoses and provide medical treatment for those suffering from addiction.

“There’s a concern that users will just use the kits to come back down and get high again.” Feuerherm said. “Part of this program is educational. To the persons who are receiving the kits, seeking medical treatment is part of the program.”

After someone uses Narcan to reverse an overdose, they are trained to call 911, Feuerherm said.

Deidre Plumley, a prevention specialist with Cortland Prevention Resources, says she has also come across a perception that the Narcan kits will serve to enable drug addicts.

“People have the impression that Narcan is just for drug abusers,” Plumley said. “It doesn’t have to be attached to an illicit substance…Most people who are addicted to heroin started with prescription pain medication.”

Plumley says there’s another misconception regarding drug abuse–that those who become addicted to drugs are largely marginalized on the fringes of society.

But after interviewing groups of inmates at the Cortland County jail, Plumley learned that many addicts came from upper class families.

“We have to start caring about substance abusers,” Plumley said. “They’re not just the dirty people under the bridge. They are our neighbors and family members.”

The county health department plans to launch its Narcan training program later this month.

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