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An overdose of heroism to the rescue

Hunched over and down on his knees, the man clenches his jaw — his eyes fixed on the subject.

With one hand wrapped behind the other, he falls into a steady rhythm thrusting the chest. Every so often he stops, plugs the nose, tilts back the head and exhales deeply into the mouth. The goal is to bring the victim back to life.

Except there was never any life to begin with.

This is not a victim, just a mannequin. The human is Warren Vibert-Adams, a massage therapy student who is engaging in more vigorous therapy than the ones he practices in his course.

He is mirroring the actions of Marianne Black, his mentor. She is a first aid instructor for the Red Cross and is currently working for National Capital First Aid, who have partnered with the college in an extensive program of teaching participants the vital practices of resuscitation.

The program is split into two levels. Standard first aid is covered in level one, and emergency first aid in level two.

By the end of the course, students will know how to properly provide CPR as well as other life-saving methods.

For young adults like Vibert-Adams, the recent opioid crisis in Canada suggests he is more likely to be faced with this ask now more than ever — an ask which he is prepared to tackle.

“I know now how to recognize an emergency and be prepared to act accordingly,” he said.

According to data released by the Government of Canada between 2016 and 2017, the rate of emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses increased by 73 per cent in Ontario. In just the first half of 2018, there were 638 deaths due to overdoses on the substance: roughly nine out of every 100 000.

Last year, 26 per cent of victims were between the ages of 30 to 39 — the highest demographic — and 75 per cent of all victims were male. No data has yet been released for 2019.

In the case of an overdose encounter, Black teaches students to be prepared in several ways.

Breathing protection masks and gloves could be purchased at pharmacies, and should be worn when performing CPR. Everyone is encouraged to carry these with them at all times; they could be stuffed into some key chains.

During resuscitation, an automated external defibrillator must also be sought.

“Survival rate increases exponentially when you have an AED,” Black.

These devices send an electrical shock to someone in cardiac arrest in an attempt to bring back a steady heartbeat; they are designed to be easy to use for anyone. There are more of them per capita in Ottawa than anywhere else in the world.

they must also call 911. The call should be put on speaker, so they could provide help in the meantime. Cellphones should always be charged. If there is someone nearby, they could go look for the AED.

“Be prepared to help when you notice something is not normal,” Black.

Narcan, an emergency nasal spray used to treat opioid overdoses, is also to be given to the victim. Pharmacies could provide anyone with the spray free of charge, so long as they complete a quick tutorial on how to use it.

For a person who is suffering an opioid overdose, their respiratory system is compromised. Black “In plain language, they cannot breathe properly.” The nasal spray is there to remedy that; however, it might have its side effects.

The spray can trigger a reaction in the brain that causes combative behaviour; the victim could get violent. In that case, Black says the resuscitator should back away. They are there to save lives, but if their own is being compromised, then the less victims the better.

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