An Ohio church hosting a family festival added a new element to the festivities this year: handing out Narcan, the nasal spray used as an antidote for people overdosing on heroin and other opioids.
Jeremy Bauer, the church operations manager at Holy Family Parish in Cincinnati said he decided to offer the drug after witnessing three people within a few weeks overdose on heroin in front of his church and nearby.
“It was a bold step,” Bauer tells PEOPLE. “We’re showing there’s no shame that this (overdoses) is really happening.”
The festival at the 133-year-old Catholic church has been taking place for decades, usually seeing hundreds of people enjoying bands, food, and carnival games. But among the cake walks, Bingo games and face painting this year was a booth where fest-goers could pick up a two-dose box of Narcan, the brand name of naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdoses.
Volunteers gave away about 70 packages of Narcan, which is available over the counter in Ohio and other states. The festival, which was open to the church’s 400 families as well as the public, attracted a diverse crowd including “older Anglos, African-Americans, and Latinos,” Bauer says. “Addiction doesn’t hold any prejudices,” he says.
Bauer, 30, who previously worked at an addiction treatment center, says he was looking for a way bring attention and help for the issue after he looked out the window of his church office one day and saw a woman face-down on a lawn in the midst of a heroin overdose. Within the next couple of weeks he came upon two other people overdosing in public, he said.
Around the same time, he got a call from a community outreach specialist at the Ohio Attorney General’s office who was trying to find new avenues for getting out the word out about opioids, he said. They decided the June family festival was a good venue for distributing the Narcan kits, which were paid for through grants, he said.
“This is a social justice response to people on the margins, the people suffering from addiction,” Bauer says. “Most of the people thought it was great.”
Narcan, he added, is only an emergency lifesaving tool, but drug users need additional treatment.
“My hope,” Bauer says, “is to save lives and rebuild families.”