FIGHTING THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Antonia Sawyer knows that people who overdose on opioids may die if they don’t immediately ingest a medication called naloxone. But naloxone isn’t readily accessible, either because it’s too expensive, it’s not provided in the community, or the opioid user doesn’t know about it.
Sawyer wants to get naloxone to everyone who needs it and she spends time, energy, and money to do that. She’s already shipped nearly 4,200 doses of naloxone across Indiana—and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
PREVAILING OVER THE BACKLASH
You may think that providing care to drug users would not be that controversial, but you’d be mistaken. In 2018, Sawyer tried to provide clean syringes to users, but she was blocked by both the local health board and the county prosecutor who said: Antonia Sawyer is a liar and not to be trusted. And the local health board opined: Drug users don’t care about themselves, so why should we? Oh, and by the way, Sawyer has stolen naloxone and falsified state documents.
The Indiana Department of Health looked into the accusations and determined that they were baseless. Nonetheless, Sawyer’s employer chastised her; she resigned. Soon thereafter, the Indiana Recovery Alliance gave Sawyer 1,500 doses of naloxone for distribution, stating, “We never want you to feel like you can’t serve your community.”
EXPANDING THE SUPPORT SYSTEM
Sawyer solicited donations, created an on-line training, and provided free naloxone and free shipping to those who needed it. She expanded her services to providing Fentanyl testing strips and medication disposal bags. She’s now organized trainings in local substance abuse groups, YMCAs, churches, and libraries.
Her days are spent filling orders, building and shipping kits, logging data, creating and making presentations, and letting people know about what she’s doing. She’s also attending graduate school and raising three sons.
ENABLING PEOPLE TO STAY ALIVE
Despite the ever increasing incidence of drug use and related medical conditions—including hepatitis and HIV—associated with such use, many people still challenge Sawyer’s work.
“They say we’re making it easier for people to use and we’re enabling people. To that I say yes. I’m enabling people to breathe. I’m enabling life. I’m enabling a chance to receive treatment. I’m making it safer to use because whether I give them naloxone or not, they’re going to go get heroin.
“We aren’t going to give up. I am going to keep pressing for this because it’s not going anywhere.”