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Drug Counselor Spreads Word About  Nasal Spray that Can Save Lives

Ariel Baez and a colleague staff the POTS table at Edgar Allan Poe Park. Credit: Catholic Charites New York

POTS, a Bronx agency affiliated with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, recently provided those struggling with drug addiction with Naloxone, a nasal spray that works to save people experiencing drug overdoses. The goal is to save lives.

It’s a glorious end-of-summer day at Edgar Allan Poe Park off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Children and their moms are enjoying the bright sunshine before school starts up again at a playground that features a cottage once lived in by the 19th-century American author who dabbled in tales of horror.

Ariel Baez, substance abuse case manager for Part of the Solution (POTS), a Catholic Charities agency which provides food, respite and support for those struggling in the city’s poorest borough, this day hopes to prevent another kind of horror: the deaths of drug users caused by exposure to powerful narcotics such as Fentanyl. It’s a few minutes after noon and the park benches are filled with those enjoying the sunshine.

Still his mission is a serious one.  

“We’re facing a high level of overdoses,” he says as he sets out a display table, featuring information brochures, and assistance kits useful to the homeless, including toiletries and socks. One of the kits includes Naloxone, a nasal spray used to bring those experiencing dangerous highs back to life safely.

POTS (Part of the Solution) Narcan Event. Credit: Catholic Charities New York

He’s been doing this work for 15 years and, in that time, has experienced helping addicts with the spray seven times. POTS offers an array of services, including meals and showers, all intended to provide dignity and support for those living on the harsh streets, including those with substance abuse concerns.

The nasal spray, easy to administer, is invaluable in extreme overdose cases, he says.

“We are part of meeting them where they are at,” he says. “We are trying to limit the dangers. We don’t want them to use drugs.” But, he says, the use of the spray can provide addicts a chance to live until they are ready to address their issues.

Fentanyl and other powerful opioids are sometimes mixed in other drugs, such as cocaine, creating confusion. Often those victimized don’t know what they have ingested. Fentanyl is rated as 50 times more powerful than heroin.

On this day, Ariel offers some basic toiletries and socks to the children and mothers at the playground. But they are not his main concern. He notes a small group of adults of varied ages hanging out on nearby benches. “They are going to come over,” says Ariel, noting that his role is not to reach out overtly – that might frighten them away – but to coax them.

As he predicted, within 10 minutes they gravitate to Ariel’s table. He explains the benefits of Naloxone, with some noting they are familiar with the product.

A woman who calls herself Ebony, her body thin and withered by the apparent toll of drug addiction, listens to Ariel’s explanation, and walks away with a kit. By contrast, a group of three older men, apparently healthy, listen as well, explaining in Spanish to Ariel that they need a kit for a family member who is troubled by drug usage.

Ariel has found that by spreading the word, the simple spray will save lives. That goal gives this otherwise quiet day in the park a special urgency.

“This will bring the effects of the drugs to reverse. It will bring you back to life,” he says.