LAFAYETTE -- For someone overdosing on heroin, the difference between life and death lies in a small plastic container holding a pair of syringes and two tiny vials of Naloxone.
Used in emergency rooms and by first responders, the drug is an opioid antagonist, or antidote, that reverses the overdose and restores breathing in a person who has taken a possibly lethal amount of a prescription opiate drug such as Vicodin or OxyContin, or illegal opiate drug such as heroin.
Staffers at Lafayette's New Leaf Treatment Center want to make sure the overdose reversal kits are accessible to everyone. That's why the center, which treats clients with alcohol and drug addictions from Lamorinda, Contra Costa County and the greater Bay Area and beyond, is making them available through their foundation.
"It's very simple and virtually instantaneous," said Linda Hickman, New Leaf's director of nursing while demonstrating how to fill a syringe with the clear liquid that can be injected directly into an arm or thigh muscle through clothes, or sprayed into the nose with an attachment.
"If in 3 to 4 minutes later, they're not breathing," Hickman said, "you give them a second dose."
Launched during California Prescription Drug Awareness Month, the program allows qualifying individuals throughout the county to obtain kits for free or for a donation from the center. With training, a family member or friend with an overdose kit or access to one can help keep a loved one from dying.
April Rovero, a San Ramon resident whose 21-year-old son Joey died in 2009 from a combination of alcohol, the tranquilizer Xanax and the prescription opioid OxyContin, is a believer in the kits.
Rovero is the founder of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, a nonprofit raising awareness of the problem. The group is hosting a screening and discussion of the documentary film "Behind the Orange Curtain," which explores prescription drug abuse among teens in affluent Orange County at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Miramonte High School theater in Orinda. New Leaf staffers will be on hand to demonstrate the overdose kits.
"I'm so supportive of the Naxo program," Rovero said. "If we can save one life, that life can go into treatment and hopefully that life will be turned around."
Responding to recent media coverage of New Leaf, including claims that a drug problem doesn't exist in affluent communities such as those in Lamorinda, Rovero obtained data from the Contra Costa County Coroner's office showing that between 2008 and 2012, five Lafayette residents from 23 to 56 died from accidental overdoses of prescription drugs. Two additional prescription drug deaths occurring in Lafayette during that period were suicides.
While Lafayette doesn't have a particularly bad problem, it still has too many opiates, said Gantt Galloway, a scientist who cofounded the center and serves as president. "It's not a particular hot spot, but people get stuck in addiction," Galloway said.
There are tragedies in Moraga and Orinda, too.
Moraga had one accidental drug death and one suicide attributable or caused by prescription drugs from 2008 to 2012. Orinda had two suicides.
Countywide, the numbers are much higher and mirror data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing deaths nationwide from drug overdoses have become the leading cause of unintentional injury death in people ages 25-64. Prescription drugs were involved in 307 of 408 accidental drug deaths in the county between 2008-12. They also played a role in 97 of 98 suicides.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Rovero said, explaining the numbers only reflect documented cases and exclude residents who died outside the county, such as teens or young adults away at college or who have moved from home.
"We know there are far more deaths that we can say have happened," Rovero said.
Drugs are touching youth too, with prescription pills easily accessible in medicine cabinets making their way into schoolyards where they can be purchased. The road can eventually leads to drugs like heroin, which is plentiful and cheaper to obtain. A way to prevent that, suggest Galloway and Rovero, is to not have someone reach into the medicine cabinet for the first time.
The center will hold overdose kit training at 7:30 p.m. April 1 at 251 Lafayette Circle, Suite 150. For information, call 925-284-5200.