When Luis Garcia retired as a firefighter and paramedic from the Boynton Beach Fire Department in southeast Florida, he was looking forward to enjoying a relaxed life, and had his eye on the dream car that the $40,000 in his savings account would cover.
But something else kept nagging at him. As a paramedic, Garcia had brought opioid overdose victims back from near-death. He did it by administering a nasal spray of a drug called Narcan. Narcan (generic name: naloxone) blocks opioids from reaching brain receptors. If administered within eight minutes of an overdose, the drug can almost always revive the person who’s over-dosed, with little side effects.
A SECOND CAREER
Garcia decided that saving more lives would be his second career. He applied to the State for grant money to distribute Narcan in Florida communities.
The state agency said no.
So Garcia changed his retirement plan even more. He gave up his idea of buying a new car and spent his life savings on 800 doses of Narcan. He then set out getting the life-saving remedy to people who were willing to carry it in case they came upon someone felled by an opioid overdose.
OVERDOSES CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE
“Everyone assumes people are dying in private residences,” points out Garcia. “That’s not the case. People are dropping dead in convenience stores, fast food restaurants, churches, homeless camps.”
Garcia traveled throughout Florida—visiting dozens of cities, handing out free Narcan, and teaching two-hour courses to law-enforcement officers and interested civilians on how to save lives with the spray.
RAISING MONEY, TRAVELING FARTHER
He started the South Florida Opioid Crisis Mortality Reduction Project, and then raised over $30,000 on a GoFundMe page so he could get free Narcan to other parts of the country.
People receiving Narcan from Garcia have to promise to do two things. If they suspect that someone has overdosed, they'll immediately call 911; and they'll do everything possible to help, even if the person is a total stranger.
“No human being,” said Garcia in one of his seminars, “should be dying in our great country for lack of a $50 nasal spray that a 10-year-old could administer.”
THE CRISIS IS GROWING
The future seems to hold more opioid overdoses, so it’s important that more and more police departments, sheriff’s offices, and fire districts are carrying Narcan. Garcia: “I witnessed the AIDS crisis and the cocaine crisis. We’re going to find that the opioid pandemic in the USA will far exceed the number of deaths from all of that combined. Virtually all these deaths are preventable. Many would live to go into recovery if only someone was there to give them Narcan.”
And who is the typical person who might need Narcan? “It’s our mothers, our sisters, our brothers, our fathers, a friend, somebody you love. It’s normal people. It’s not just unhealthy, dysfunctional people who use it.
“Whether or not somebody has strong feelings about addiction, it comes down to this: Do we think every human life is worth saving?”
Garcia is sure saving lives is worth a lot more than tooling around in a shiny new car.