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Harlem-Based Organization Trains Homeless Population To Combat Overdose Deaths

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - One of the main products used to stop a drug overdose in its tracks is Naloxone. It comes in different forms, but the easiest to administer is Narcan nasal spray. Two organizations have teamed up to get this life-saving product to the front lines of the fight.

On a bi-monthly basis, Narcan training is on the agenda at the Breaking Ground organization's transitional housing building The Lee in the Lower East Side.

"There are opioid receptors all throughout the body, and one place where there's a lot of them is in the back of the brain," education and training director Dr. Glen Davis told the class of staff and formerly homeless tenants.

Davis is an instructor for the Harlem-based Center for Urban Community Services, which aims to get knowledge and nasal spray to the city's homeless population.

"I think from a non-judgmental stance, being able to train and talk to the community here … has been super impactful," said The Lee's CUCS program director Maya Azran, "and I hope to believe that we have saved lives in the process."

Hector Nieves did not know about Narcan when he lived on the streets. Now he lives at The Lee.

"I was homeless for six years, 10 months and 24 days," Nieves recalled vividly.

Nieves survived 25 years of substance abuse. He said the only way he could stop was through God. He has lost friends to overdoses, but now he feels empowered to help.

CUCS has distributed nearly 6,000 Narcan kits. Trainees have reported 130 overdose reversals, and staff believe there have likely been many more.

Case manager Danee Sergeant understands first-hand what many clients are experiencing. As a recovering user, they know Narcan intervention can spark a second chance.

"It saves lives," Sergeant said pointedly. "And in that moment, right there, a person can reconsider a lot of things in just a split second."

More New Yorkers died of overdoses in 2021 than ever before, but this growing team wants to help users think twice about their future.

"When you're going through hell, don't stop," Sergeant urged. "Just keep going. If you stop, then what? You're stuck in hell."

New York City offers free Narcan kits through a variety of organizations. To learn more, click here.

If you have a tip about the happenings in Harlem, please reach out to CBS2's Jessi Mitchell by clicking here.

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