Retired South FL Paramedic Distributes Narcan To These In Want

BOYNTON BEACH, FL — A retired firefighter and paramedic in South Florida is on the front lines preventing fatal fentanyl overdoses in the community every day by distributing the FDA-approved nasal spray Narcan to those who need it. The prescription drug is used to treat overdoses in emergency situations.

Luis Garcia, who retired from Boynton Beach Fire Rescue, now works with a restoration company that takes him throughout the region. But he’s always on the lookout for those potentially overdosing from drugs in hopes that he can help them, which is his real passion.

“When there’s smoke, water, fire damage, a dead body, what have you, we get called in through your insurance carrier,” he told Patch. “But it’s just a job. It pays. The only reason I love the job is because I have these scanner radios.”

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As he drives to each client and throughout his workdays, a police scanner app runs in the background on his phone. If he hears a police dispatch call about an overdose, he rushes to the scene if he knows he can arrive within two to three minutes and administers Narcan.

Since starting his project five years ago, Garcia has saved 17 lives through his efforts.

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“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “In my 28 years in fire rescue, I did it all. I rescued a woman. I was a firefighter of the year. I delivered 18 babies. But this project (delivering Narcan to those who need it), nothing has ever felt like this .”

The 55-year-old retired about 11 years ago. Then, in August 2017, he heard on the news that the FDA had approved a nasal spray to use during a fentanyl overdose. What amazed him the most was that it was designed for the average person to administer.

“It’s a specifically designed high dosage for fentanyl overdoses and it’s specifically for use by untrained civilians,” Garcia said.

His interest in Narcan surprised many people, he said. “I’ve never been intoxicated. I’ve never tried drugs. I’ve never been impacted by the disease (of addiction). I’ve never lost anyone to it.”

Despite this, he and his girlfriend, Leiza Michaels, started thinking about how they might be able to distribute the newly approved nasal spray to the people who needed it the most.

“It’s purely scientific,” he said. “No human being should die in this great country of ours right now for lack of a $75 spray that a child can legally and safely administer in every single state.”

Garcia applied for part of a $65 million grant given to the state of Florida to fund Narcan distribution, public education and rehabilitation. His application was rejected, even though he had all the necessary requirements lined up, including an affiliation with a 501c3 nonprofit and a prescribing medical authority.

He was disappointed and shocked that the state turned him down.

“I was shut out before I even got started” he said.

Because he has no connection to addiction or recovery, individuals and organizations are sometimes wary of him – even five years into his life-saving efforts, he said. “I learned that even in addiction or recover there are stigmas. I experienced stigma being a nonuser – a ‘normie,’ as people who are not in addiction or recovery are called. I thought it wasn’t a big deal. We all have our issues and I’m a retired fire rescue medic who is just trying to save lives.”

He suspects that this distrust and suspicion played into his 2017 grant application being turned down.

At the time, Garcia and his girlfriend had saved up $40,000 to buy a new SUV. Michaels suggested that he use the money to purchase Narcan for distribution instead.

“She’s the one who inspired me. So, I kept my little Toyota Corolla and ran it into the ground,” he said.

He also created a structured, two-hour class, similar to medical continuing education seminars.

In 2018, he launched a GoFundMe fundraiser and was named a GoFundMe Hero. Since then, he’s raised more than $61,000.

And he continues to collect donations, as the need shows no signs of slowing down. Much of his work has focused on distributing Narcan in Florida, especially in the rural counties with no access to the life-saving drug.

But he’s also toured the United States, bringing the nasal spray to other states, including Montana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Southern California.

“Thanks to GoFundMe, I’m able to go where the need exists,” Garcia said.

Last year, he formally launched his own 501c3 nonprofit, USA Opioid Crisis Mortality Reduction. Since starting this work five years ago, in addition to saving 17 people from overdose, he’s also taught 400 classes to first responders and others in six states and given out more than 6,500 sprays. Of those, 250 have reached out for more Narcan because they saved a life with the spray that he originally gave them.

“Anybody can do this,” Garcia said. “I’m a lay person now. Anybody can do what I’m doing. I’m not unique. I’m not a superhero. I’m not special.”

This past Tuesday was the first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day recognized by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. It was established to educate people about the dangers of fentanyl.

He hopes that establishing this annual day of awareness will save more lives and make his job of distributing Narcan even easier.

“What people don’t realize is the leading cause of death under the age of 50 (in the US) is opioid overdose. It’s 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin,” Garcia said. “It’s shocking, but I’m so glad that the DEA created the first official fentanyl awareness day. Narcan should be viewed no differently than doing CPR, than a smoke detector, than using a defibrillator, from using a fire extinguisher. -saving tool.”

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