EDITORIAL: A new era of intervention

York Dispatch
Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Press Secretary Jason Snyder speaks as the Pennsylvania police departments that have begun carrying naloxone and reversed nearly 650 opioid overdoses in little more than a year are honored at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The York Dispatch this past week ran two stories that began in eerily similar ways. In the first, there was a gunshot victim lying in the street in a corner of north Philadelphia known as the Badlands, “spitting up the blood that gradually choked her to death.”

In the second, a pregnant woman, 37 weeks along (full term is 40 weeks), lay dying of a heroin overdose.

In the former case, the woman could not be saved. In the latter, two patrolmen armed with the heroin antidote Narcan administered the drug and saved the woman and her baby.

More than 600 people have been saved across Pennsylvania through Narcan use. More than 100 police officers were honored for doing just that Tuesday at the Capitol in Harrisburg.

York County among Pa. officers honored for naloxone use in overdose cases

York County officers have helped save 113 people with Narcan since they began using the antidote last spring.

Philadelphia resident Mike Abdullah, 61, would like to see a similar outcome for shooting victims.

He has a plan to train neighbors in high crime areas in first aid for gunshot victims. That way, Abdullah said, instead of helplessly standing by and watching them die, the residents can begin to administer aid while waiting for first responders. The group has not said if there are specific or significant legal implications involved with doing so, but it’s an important issue to consider.

The fatal shooting of the woman left on the street was one of many Abdullah says he has seen in the city over the years and felt helpless to stop. Recently, Abdullah — who also lost a younger brother and four nephews to gun violence — joined more than 50 of his neighbors at an elementary school to learn how to help the next victim in time, according to an Associated Press report.

“He did what most young men do, tried to run to the hospital,” Abdullah said of his brother. “He made it right up to the door and died because there was nobody to do these procedures on him,” the AP reported.

Temple University Hospital is enlisting neighborhood residents — most of them poor, black and living in violent areas — in the program, called “Fighting Chance.” The doctors and nurses conducting the training have plenty of experience, as the hospital treats at least 400 shooting victims a year.

Also receiving training were police officers in administering Narcan to overdosing drug users. But it’s worth noting that officers now have another job to do — an additional duty they didn’t have a couple of years ago.

And we can conclude from the numbers we have reported regarding heroin overdoses and those life-saving measures taken by officers using Narcan that their jobs have just become busier and more stressful than they already were.

Police officers are trained as first responders, and they save lives every day. Neighborhood bystanders being called on to treat gunshot victims in the field is another story altogether.

According to Abdullah, there is a feeling that there is little or no choice for those mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles and cousins — grandparents even — who want to ensure their family members, typically young black men, don’t continue to die of gun violence at an alarming rate.

Relatives now, to some degree, believe they must learn to become first responders or risk feeling the helplessness of having to watch young people die right in front of their eyes.

Although they may not have intended it, they are now soldiers in a war being waged in their own neighborhoods.

For high-crime neighborhoods, a class in gunshot first aid

According to the AP report, homicide is the leading cause of death for black males between 18 and 34 years old in the U.S. and in Philadelphia. Police recorded more than 1,240 shootings across the city last year, including 690 involving young black men. Of those, 236 were fatal, and 51 percent of those killed were young black men.

It’s a new era of intervention. One in which police officers and neighbors must step in to save lives because two heartbreaking epidemics have taken hold of so many communities.

We agree it’s a wonderful thing that lives can be saved with the heroin antidote and we’re hopeful “Fighting Chance” can save lives.

We are struck by the somewhat bittersweet, to say the least, nature of these solutions.