DETROIT -- Mark Harris had stopped at a CVS store in Detroit last month to pick up some medicine when he spotted an unusual sight. A young man was fading in and out of consciousness in an aisle, before collapsing to the floor.
Familiar with the neighborhood — Eight Mile and Gratiot — Harris says he didn't need much convincing to know what had just happened. The man had overdosed.
"I see it a lot right there in the area, you see a lot of drug addicts. You can't describe them, but when you see them you know it, they fit a profile," he said.
With the young man on the floor, and CVS employees and customers beginning to buzz around him trying to figure out what to do, Harris pulled out his phone to document the traumatic ordeal.
The nearly 12-minute video, filmed Oct. 11 — and uploaded to YouTube the next day — shows an almost surreal scene. It starts with the young man unconscious on the floor and ends with him standing erect, fully functioning after EMS responders give him naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids.
The video showcases Michigan's struggles with the national opioid crisis, the life-saving power of drugs like naloxone, and, most notably, a lack of education when it comes to handling an overdose scenario. As people wait for EMS to arrive bystanders and CVS employees do everything from gawk to pour water on the man's head to suggest CPR, even though he already breathing.
Most notably, despite the incident taking place in a pharmacy — specifically, a pharmacy that is allowed to sell naloxone over the counter — nobody made any moves to find and administer the drug, waiting instead for the paramedics to arrive.
"People didn't know how to respond so they didn't know how to take action, unfortunately," said Gina Dahlem a clinical assistant professor at University of Michigan's School of Nursing, whose research focuses on opioid overdose prevention and education using naloxone.
"That shows the need for us to educate these public places and those who are involved — pharmacists, librarians, staff where overdoses are highly likely to occur," Dahlem continued.
In May, Gov. Rick Snyder announced that pharmacies could dispense naloxone sans prescriptions if they registered with the state Department of Health and Human Services. Previously, only law enforcement, first responders, and doctors could administer the life-saving drug.
As of Nov. 2, 2,840 pharmacies — or 34% of the state total — obtained controlled substance licenses in Michigan in order to dispense naloxone to individuals over the counter. The CVS in question was one of those pharmacies. This led some — like Harris, who filmed the video and kept suggesting someone use Narcan, the brand name version of naloxone — to question why the pharmacist did not administer the naloxone himself.
"That's heroin, they got some stuff Narcan that they shoot it up their nose to bring them back," Harris is heard telling the group huddled around the man before paramedics arrived.
Watch (the video might be disturbing for some viewers): Video shows man coming back to life after overdosing at a CVS
In the video, the pharmacist at one point indicates that they may not have had the drug in stock at the moment — though the conversation was hurried and it's unclear if the pharmacist was specifically answering the question about the drug's availability.
CVS for its part said the pharmacist should not have administered the drug, but rather waited, as he did until EMS had arrived, stating that the drug is not meant to be "dispensed for immediate usage."
"We make every effort to stock our pharmacy inventory based on patient demand, however, naloxone is not a medication that is dispensed for immediate usage," CVS Director of Corporate Communication Erin Shields Britt said in a statement.
"In most cases, opioid users or their family members order naloxone to keep on-hand in an emergency to reverse an accidental overdose. In an emergency situation where naloxone is needed, 911 should be called, as was the case here."
Dahlem of the University of Michigan, however, contends that the purpose of making naloxone available over the counter is for situations exactly like this and minimizing any lag time is ideal.
"The sooner you are able to revive a person the better the outcome," she said. "This emphasizes the need for education in the community and of laypeople."
The video, which documents the young man right after he lost consciousness to the moment he's wheeled out by medics, shows not only the scary reality of a drug overdose but the confusion of many bystanders over what to do.
A CVS pharmacist is seen pushing on the man's chest, while the man's friend is seen pacing around the store dumping water on his head.
Dahlem notes that while the shouting and shaking of the man are actually helpful in an overdose situation, the pouring of water was in fact very dangerous. An overdose is a respiratory problem before it's a cardiac problem, according to Dahlem, and dousing someone in water — a move people often do in overdose situations because they think it will help wake a person up — can, in fact, make the problem worse.
Michigan's relationship with the opioid epidemic has worsened over the years. In 2015, the most recent year of data available, the state saw its third consecutive year of record drug overdose deaths. That year, 1,981 people died from drug overdoses, up 13.5% from 2014. Over the last 17 years, deaths from drug overdoses quadrupled, up from 455 in 1999.
For Harris, who decided to document the incident because he had never seen anything like it before, the incident highlighted a clear health and education issue, but also a disconnect between the response to the opioid crisis and what he witnessed 30 years back during the crack epidemic in Detroit.
“In the '80s during the crack epidemic, most of the victims of the crack epidemic were jailed and criticized and now it’s an opioid epidemic and it’s more like they need help,” said Harris, who says he is a recovering alcoholic and that he's sensitive to the realities of addiction.
“It’s a person’s own choice to use drugs or alcohol, but once you get addicted you’re sick. A lot of times, you need help to get out of addiction, but during the crack epidemic, they weren't trying to help people like now. During the crack epidemic, they criminalized all of the people and mostly just put people in jail for just what the guy did.”
While it is unclear what ended up happening to the young man in the video, a YouTube commenter wrote to the Free Press that the man had entered himself into rehab.
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