It’s Friday. The end of the week: time to unwind, have fun, and plan for a designated driver with Lyft or Uber. Tonight, and this weekend, thousands of people will use a rideshare app to get them from party to party. Most of them will make it home safely. But some won’t, thanks to surging rates of drug use. Recovery advocate Ryan Hampton is highlighting the crucial role Lyft and Uber drivers could play in saving lives simply by carrying anti-overdose medication Narcan.
A few weeks ago, one of Ryan’s friends died of an overdose in the sober living house. The facility didn’t have Narcan available. Neither did the EMTs who arrived at the scene: California law prohibits first responders from carrying basic medications like the EpiPen, Narcan, or even aspirin and Benadryl. Ryan’s friend was alive when the sober living house called 911, and alive when the ambulance came. But without Narcan, there was no way to combat the overdose.
Another life lost. As the drug epidemic peaks, so are overdose deaths like this one. Most overdoses are accidental and preventable. They also affect people who don’t have substance use disorder. Anyone who takes an opioid medication, recreationally or on doctor’s orders, is at risk for an overdose. That means that people like Robbie Hodge can end up in a coma after trying a drug just one time.
Ryan is calling for Uber and Lyft to be prepared to prevent overdose deaths by training their drivers. It’s a simple idea that could save thousands of lives. He’s raising awareness by giving trainings to drivers with harm reduction activist Chad Sabora while they use Lyft and Uber to get around Los Angeles, California.
Ryan and Chad agree that more Narcan, in more places, will save more lives. This is especially true in places where there are lots of people who might be engaging in high risk behaviors: like the back seat of a Lyft, downtown on a Friday night.
“There’s a myth that if Narcan is available, people will be more likely to feel free to try opioids,” Ryan said. “Some sober living facilities have refused Narcan training because they think it encourages drug use. That couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s like saying the presence of a lifeguard encourages swimmers to drown themselves.”
The people who are most likely to be affected by heroin are aged 18-25. That’s the same group that tends to use Uber and Lyft to get around, especially on weekends. The petition says, “Although many people choose to call an Uber or Lyft after a long night of partying, the rides can also become ambulances for people who are intoxicated to the point of incapacitation or death. Instead of being the designated driver, the driver might end up with a sick or severely intoxicated passenger in their backseat.”
Most drivers aren’t prepared for this situation, but they’re in a unique position to save a life. Overdoses can kill: they cause unconsciousness, vomiting, and even cardiac arrest. Yet, a single dose of Narcan can neutralize the effects of the opioid drug and put the person into withdrawal. A driver who knows First Aid or CPR might be able to help a passenger who’s hurt or in shock, but without Narcan, there is no way to assist someone who’s overdosing.
“A Narcan kit with two doses of the medication costs $75 over the counter: that’s pennies for companies that draw over $20 billion in gross revenue annually,” says Ryan.
Within 24 hours, Ryan’s petition has already gathered over 1,000 signatures from concerned parents, friends, and app users. Drivers, too, are calling for more drug education. It’s a simple, common sense change that could impact thousands of lives.
Just as every airport, clinic, and library must have an AED available to help someone in cardiac arrest, Narcan needs to be available everywhere, too. It should be in every First Aid kit. Yet, state policies lag behind as the drug epidemic picks up speed. An EMT in California can’t carry Narcan, but a rideshare driver can: Lyft and Uber contract with drivers, and are not subject to restrictive state policies. Their ability to give Narcan could make all the difference.
Ryan’s advocacy makes an important point: anyone who can help save a life, must be given the tools and training to do so. Lyft and Uber have the ability to help thousands of riders get home safely at the end of the night. It’s a small change that could have a huge effect on the drug epidemic.