MARTINSBURG – Kathy Williams is no stranger to heroin or its addicts, so she wanted to be prepared—just in case someone ever needed her help.
And she got her chance unexpectedly one day last month when a woman she didn’t even know burst into her home pleading for help with a man who’d overdosed on heroin.
Williams, who had been trained to administer the anti-opioid drug naloxone, didn’t have time to think.
She reacted on instinct by grabbing the kit she’d need and running a short distance between houses to the spot where her neighbor was already in bad shape.
“I don’t remember a lot, because it was kind of like a dream except you know you have to do something. When she came into my house I was in my bedroom watching TV, but now I don’t even know what show was on. She might have knocked and I just didn’t hear, but in her state of mind she just panicked about getting help. She just came bursting in and wanted to know if I had my medicine because her friend was overdosing,” Williams said.
“And that’s when everything happened, and I just grabbed it out of my purse. I don’t remember much else, except that I’d run out of my shoes trying to get to him and how much I was shaking when I got there,” she said, pointing to the corner of a nearby porch just three houses away.
“He was in the driveway. His arms were already blue, there was a bluish, gray tint to him, kind of like if you take your finger and cut off the oxygen to it and it starts turning colors, well that’s what his body was doing. His body was getting no oxygen because the overdose was shutting off his oxygen because his breathing was slowed down. Soon your heart rate goes down and then,” Williams said without finishing her sentence as she gestured toward the neighbor’s house.
Real life is much different than a class, however. It took a couple of seconds to administer the first dose. Even then she wasn’t sure how much he’d received.
She followed up with a second dose, and waited what seemed like an eternity to see it she’d gotten to him in time.
“It’s not like you see on TV where a person just automatically comes back to life. It takes a few minutes, and that seems like forever because you are hoping against hope that this person didn’t die,” Williams said.
“Right as the paramedics were pulling in the driveway is when his eyes started flickering,” she said.
“A person in this condition doesn’t come back as quick as they went down. But it really shocked me how easily he came out of it in the end, even though it took a little bit,” Williams said.
Although prescription pills used to be the local drug of choice, it’s now become heroin because it is cheaper and more readily available.
“There’s a reason we’re known as little Baltimore, and then we’ve also got the heroin highway, and it’s all about how much heroin is here. And I don’t see that changing any time soon,” said Williams, shaking her head as she recalled a former close friend who is now locked up in a neighboring state after having become an addict.
That local availability—including the south Berkeley County neighborhood where she and her husband are raising a family—was a big part of the reason Williams took a class offered locally by Dr. John Aldis. Aldis trains people how to use naloxone, gives them a prescription and also the nasal atomizer used to administer it.
Naloxone is a drug that simply reverses the effects of a heroin overdose. Several police departments around the state carry or plan to carry the drug with them.
After she took the training, Williams began telling others that she had it and was available if needed.
“When I saw my neighbors after that I told them to call me if they thought I could do something before the 911 responders could get there. It takes a paramedic at least 5 to 10 minutes to get here so that could be a matter of life or death,” she recalled.
Her quick thinking paid off this time, because paramedics on the scene said the man would not have been alive by the time they reached him. Giving him naloxone was the difference between
life and death in this situation.
“He’d just been overdosing too long,” she said.
Blushing a little, Williams said some people have called her a hero – but that’s not how she sees it.
“An addict is a person, and is someone’s son or daughter. Just because they’ve gotten messed up with drugs doesn’t mean they deserve to die.”
“Especially if there is something that can be done to save their life,” she said. “I think this is pretty much the same thing as having CPR training so you can help someone who’s having a heart attack. You don’t think about their character or if they deserve to live, you just do it.”
It’s become a personal campaign since then – one that includes handing out fliers (she keeps them in her purse and van) about Aldis’ class to other people and asking store owners to display it.
She still has flashbacks to that fateful day, but not in a bad way.
“I just kind of think about how it went, and how it could have gone if I hadn’t had the training. And it has lit this fire in me to get the word about naloxone out,” Williams said with a smile.
Watching as her children began munching on an after school snack, Williams said she plans to tell them about the dangers of drugs and that not every overdose has a happy ending. They were home when this one happened, but a friend came into the house to stay with them as Williams helped out, unbeknownst to her.
“I didn’t even have time to think about that because I had to focus on getting to him. But I really appreciate what she did because I wouldn’t have wanted them there,” she said.
“Believe me, they will know about drugs and addiction when the time is right,” she said.