Heroin's fatal hand has gripped the country and the city. Now, our public hospital system is trying an unusual tactic to prevent opioid overdoses targeted at people who visit city jails. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.
It's an unorthodox place to get a training session: the visitors center on Rikers Island.
"It's a good thing to have because a lot of people don't know there is an option," said Rikers Island visitor Sonet Thomas.
As Thomas waited to see her boyfriend, who has been in jail for the past six months, she learned how to use a heroin overdose antidote called naloxone.
"You spray in one nostril. Sorry if I squirted you guys! Then you spray in another nostril. You always want to check for a pulse," said Whitney Taylor of NYC Health and Hospitals.
It's a program run by the city's public hospital system, which oversees health care in city jails.
NY1 got an exclusive look at it on Friday. We saw volunteers roam from room to room, offering a drive-by training session to the jails' visitors, hoping they would take the lessons back home.
"They are running. And if I lose their interest, I won't get them a card. I wont get them anything like that," Taylor said.
Every Friday, they repeat the same pitch.
Since the program started in 2014, more than 3,000 of these kits have been handed out so far.
"Opioid overdose death is a crisis across the country and in the city of New York right now, but it particularly affects people with a history of criminal justice involvement," said Dr. Ross MacDonald of NYC Health and Hospitals. "We know that about 19 percent of our patients are in opioid withdrawal when they come to jail."
So that means about one in five inmates on Rikers has reported some sort of history of opioid abuse.
The point here at the visitors center is to better equip family or friends who may be surrounded by drug abuse.
"Because I know there is a lot of, unfortunately, drug addicts in this place," said visitor Sefora Arguello.
Of course, the city says the program is effective. The city surveyed 300 people who received these kits last summer. They said in 50 cases, the kits were used.
We watched several people walk away with them after they were done with their visit on Friday.
"You are now certified to save somebody's life," said one instructor.
Hopefully, they won't have to.