During a recent night at the Winter Shelter, Doug Murry, a supervisor with Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net (OSN), and Katie Lemon, a registered nurse volunteer, were getting ready for the required COVID-19 tests to be administered to persons seeking shelter from the cold night.
Lemon has a phone app that issues an alert when 911 receives a call that requires an immediate response.
An alert sounded, giving the incident location as 620 Smithfield Street, the address of Smithfield United Church of Christ, where the Winter Shelter is housed.
As they looked at each other wondering what was happening, the Allegheny County police officer who provides security at the site got additional information—that someone was unresponsive behind the Winter Shelter.
As Murry grabbed some naloxone (Narcan) nasal spray, Lemon set out to find the person in distress. She came across a woman, who led Lemon to her boyfriend.
He was overdosing in a secluded spot often frequented by drug users in the alley behind the church. The man, who was not someone served at the Winter Shelter, had no pulse.
Pittsburgh Mercy President and CEO Tony Beltran was on site that night and Murry asked him to grab the shelter’s automated external defibrillator (AED) in case they needed it.
Murry administered naloxone (Narcan), then he and Lemon took turns performing CPR on the man. He did not respond, despite their efforts.
“I remember thinking this man might already be dead,” Murry recalls.
About 90 seconds after Murry administered a second dose of naloxone, the man’s eyes popped open.
The EMS crew arrived about two minutes later and administered more naloxone.
“A few minutes later, he was fine,” Murry says. “It was like none of this happened.”
Because the EMS crew did not permit the girlfriend to ride with the man to the hospital, Murry called an Uber for her.
Before the ride arrived, the man called her and said he left the ambulance.
The OSN team was decompressing outside the shelter when the man walked up, shook Murry’s hand, and thanked him. Murry got the woman a box of naloxone to take with them—and they walked off into the night.
It’s not the first time Murry has used naloxone to revive someone. Because the Winter Shelter is a low-barrier facility that welcomes people as they are, regardless of substance use, he’s had to administer it to revive people several times, mostly on folks passed out in a bathroom stall.
“Nine times out of 10, they respond,” Murry says. “We always get them medically evaluated.”
Because of the populations served by Pittsburgh Mercy, Murry says it’s important for colleagues to be trained on how to administer naloxone.
Most of Pittsburgh Mercy’s colleagues who work in the community carry it with them “just in case,” says Melissa Nossal, vice president of Behavioral Health.
Not long ago, colleagues at East Commons were called upon to administer naloxone to people overdosing outside the building, Nossal says.
“From training I learned that even if you give Narcan and they don’t need it, it won’t hurt them,” Murry adds.