Before Jessica Mulgrew died of a heroin overdose, she lay unconscious for at least 30 minutes because her companions were too afraid to call for help, said Kelsea Kephart, Mulgrew’s cousin.
“If the person she was with had called 911, the police or fire department would have been there in five minutes with Narcan,” Kephart said. “But she waited so long that Narcan didn’t do anything.”
Narcan — a brand name of the drug naloxone — can rapidly put a stop to overdoses by blocking opiate receptors in the brain.
Kephart, a Linganore High School graduate, said she has “lost count” of the number of her classmates who have died of heroin overdoses. But it was her cousin’s death, in March 2016, that spurred her to fight against the widespread drug use in her community.
“Not every overdose has to be fatal,” said Kephart, a Myersville resident who grew up in Mount Airy. “I really wanted to raise awareness so people know what’s going on and what they can do. Because the situation with my cousin — that was preventable.”
To combat the spread of heroin, Kephart decided to organize a 5K run, which took place on March 5.
The event — which she dubbed “Stomp Out Heroin” — is intended both to educate Frederick County residents and raise money for local rehabilitation resources.
“We want to raise awareness of the Good Samaritan Law and Narcan training — just letting people know that it’s available,” Kephart said. “The more people who educate themselves and try to help — hopefully, we can get the drug problem under control.”
The Frederick County Health Department offers free Narcan training sessions every Friday at 1 p.m. and the second Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m.
Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law, which went into effect in October 2015, protects people from arrest if they call 911 seeking help for a drug overdose.
Kephart also recruited speakers from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and the Up & Out Foundation, a local charity that spreads information on addiction and supports residents going through rehabilitation.
Korey Shorb, the founder of Up & Out, spoke after the race. Proceeds from the 5K will go to his organization and help create a fund for Vivitrol injections — another treatment for opioid addiction.
The shots, which can cost up to $1,000 per injection, last for four weeks and are thought by many to be a better long-term treatment for opioid addiction than methadone.
“We want to raise money so that people without the means to pay for it can access treatment,” Kephart said. “It works so that even if you were to do opiates while you were on Vivitrol, you couldn’t get high.”
Beyond educating the community on overdose statistics and treatment resources, Kephart hopes to emphasize how quickly someone can slide into addiction. Misuse of prescribed opiates can easily become heroin abuse, she said.
Many parents aren’t willing to speak to their children about the issue, believing them immune.
“Just because someone is a good kid doesn’t mean they can’t get addicted to drugs,” Kephart said. “It’s not something to ever try or experiment with. My cousin was loving and sweet. She was beautiful. She just kind of got lost in the world of addiction.”
Follow Kate Masters on Twitter: @kamamasters.