Seattle man saved by naloxone 4 times, now helping others recover from addiction

Josh Bell lost everything when addiction took over his life. His job as a data analyst. His passion for music. His home.

He and his dog lived in a car. One day Bell was at Madison Park on a nice Seattle day. He used some heroin and everything went black.

"I wake up and I'm like, 'What's going on?'" Bell said, describing his friend reviving him with naloxone -- an opioid antidote that can bring people back from an overdose.

>> RELATED: What is Narcan? 12 things to know about the drug

"That could have been the end of my life right there. There's no white light. There's no tunnel. Just me and some random person. You think that's enough to stop you."

But for Bell, that was just the first time he was brought back to life with naloxone. His addiction had such a strong hold, it took him three more times before seeking long-term treatment, but it was that fourth chance at life that led him to the road of recovery.




Three years later, after using medication, therapy, and connecting with support groups, he now works as recovery coach at Seattle Area Support Groups and Community Center.

Bell talked to KIRO 7 News in an interview for this report, where we look at naloxone's impact on Western Washington amid the opioid crisis, and what it means for long-term treatment. Here's what Bell, police, and leading health experts had to say.

Friends, family saving their loved ones' lives 

A chronic pain patient with a prescription is like a loaded gun sitting on the counter, opioid researchers say. That's why when it comes to people using opioids or people with addiction, it’s their family and friends keeping guard in their own homes.

In the latest prompt for people to get naloxone education, the U.S. Surgeon General is encouraging anyone who has a family member or friend who uses drugs, or users themselves, to get consulted on how to use it.

>> Related: Naloxone is saving lives in Washington, but what does it mean for long-term treatment? 

“Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose — that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said in a statement. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.”

See how naloxone nasal spray works in the video below; scroll down to keep reading. 

New data is showing that people in Washington state are making an effort to learn how to use kits. Principal research scientist Caleb Banta-Green, with the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI), runs a five-year program through grants that distribute naloxone and evaluates its effectiveness.

These programs dole out kits through needles exchanges in South Sound areas including Pierce County and Grays Harbor.

According to a data sample taken over eight months in those areas, the ADAI program distributed naloxone to 1,400 lay responders (friends or family of people who use or an addict) compared with just 300 officers. Lay people used it 392 times during those months in their report.

The UW's study doesn't include Snohomish County's community-wide effort, recognized by the White House, where police, family, and public servants like librarians, are trained on it. The nasal spray has saved 100 people's lives.

Across Western Washington, many of these lay responders are getting access to naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan, for the first time. Just eight years ago there was only one place in Western Washington to get it.

"My son Dylan died at age 24,” said Seattle-area mother Colleen Keefe. "He was far too ashamed to tell anyone he was addicted to heroin after being prescribed pain medication. So ashamed he didn't even tell his girlfriend of five years. He finally admitted his problem and went into rehab.

“He was released and the one time he crossed the line and used again his roommate found him unconscious. His roommate didn't have naloxone, his roommate didn't have naloxone, and the first responders didn't have naloxone. He died in the hospital later that day."

Watch video below; scroll down to keep reading. 

Colleen, who's a registered nurse, started a needle exchange after her son's death. It’s now one of the 100 plus places — including public health programs, kit handouts in parks, other needle exchanges, and pharmacies — where you can access naloxone.

In addition to increased access, Washington law provides protection from criminal drug possession charges for anyone who seeks medical aid for themselves or someone else experiencing an overdose. But this doesn’t mean good Samaritans should start administering naloxone to strangers.

>> RELATED: Witnessing an overdose? Here's what law enforcement says you should do

“If you encounter a [passed out] stranger, call 911 and if you can, do CPR,” Banta-Green said. "I don’t think that everyone needs to get naloxone. You have to know what an overdose looks like to help a stranger. If you don’t know anything more, check the pulse, do chest compressions, rescue breathing.”

What naloxone's place is in long-term recovery 

A recent economic study by two researchers — Jennifer Doleac, of the University of Virginia, and Anita Mukherjee, of the University of Wisconsin —  critically examined what they called the "moral hazard of lifesaving innovations" nationwide. Their widely shared study wrote, "Access to this lifesaving drug may unintentionally increase opioid abuse by providing a safety net that encourages riskier use."

But another study published a week later discredited the so-called hazard, writing Doleac and Mukherjee's research on naloxone was not supported by methodology. This new study -- published by a medical toxicologist and emergency medical services directors -- believe more research is needed before determining high-risk behavior.

Public health leaders in Washington state already recognizes that naloxone is not the answer to the opioid epidemic. It's something that Bell agreed with in his journey of recovery.

“Naloxone is probably not going to be the key to long-term sobriety,” Bell said. “It might be something to that wakes you up but you have to be ready to catch that wave."

“If you don’t make the choice for yourself, sometimes someone else will … sometimes the police will .. sometimes it's a traumatic life experience. However you get there, there are a million different paths to recovery."

Watch video below; scroll down to keep reading. 

Naloxone is like a Band-Aid, but one that keeps people alive for a conversation about long-term treatment.

According to another sample taken from Banta-Green's five-year project, of 1,300 people who received these naloxone kits through needle exchanges in the course of just six months, about 18 percent of people came back with a used kit and took a follow-up survey, which includes a conversation about how to get help for an opioid disorder. Find resources on recovery from the project here.

Below is a chart that shows heroin treatment admissions in 2015, now there's more awareness, compared to 2002.

Long-term treatment is what will significantly reduce opioid deaths; it can include prescribing medication like methadone and morphine. A growth in those prescriptions last year in state coincides with a slight decrease in overdose deaths.

How police officers are keeping people from overdosing 

The first time police officer Randy Jokela was equipped to give aid to someone overdosing on Seattle city streets, he was afraid and nervous when he reached for his naloxone — an opioid antidote known for bringing people back to life.

It’s personal for Jokela. He has family members with addiction, and he sees the same people on the streets every day: he knows who they are and what issues they face.

>> Related: Seattle police have saved 11 people with overdose drug in 6 months

As he fumbled with the naloxone kit — a nasal spray that stops the overdose — his believed his efforts were better than doing nothing,  just waiting for fire department units to respond.

"I am sitting there trying to get the thing on,” he said. “A person, who is an addict, who happened to come by, and he looks at me and goes, 'You need to twist it on.’ [I said] ‘Oh that’s right you do have to twist it on.’ Now, I can do it.”

A couple of minutes later, that person started regaining consciousness.

Watch video below; scroll down to keep reading. 

Jokela's been on the force for a long time, and it never crossed his mind that he would be saving people from overdoses. But in the opioid crisis, it's now another part of the job.

Bike officers like Jokela have since saved 23 other lives since a naloxone program over the last two years. New body camera shows how fast an officer was able to respond -- in saving one of those lives.

Watch video below; scroll down to keep reading. 

Just last week police chief Carmen Best announced an expansion of kits in the department -- with a $5,000 donation from The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative  -- so nearly 100 officers can carry it.

“There is still so much to do,” Best said. "This is another step in our commitment to equipping as many patrol officers as possible with naloxone. We want to save lives.”

>> Related: Seattle police to double access to Naloxone

With the University of Washington working in partnership on SPD's pilot program, Caleb Banta-Green conducted an evaluation on police and naloxone. It's the first of its kind in the country and could serve as research for other police departments.

That study found bike officers can get to certain scenes, like in parks and alleys, faster than other fire and police units. It also found 11 of the lives saved, in the time period of six months, were all a result of officers finding these people while on patrol — not being called to a scene far away.

While the bike officers have a success story, it's unclear if rolling out naloxne to the department at large is effective. In cases where officers are called to the scene, rather than stumbling on someone, it could have as much of an impact to conduct rescue breathing until the Seattle Fire Department arrived to provide treatment. This method is also cheaper and it doesn't require restoring naloxone kits or training.

Watch video below; scroll down to keep reading. 

“It's a very specific finding in Seattle, [to give naloxone] to bike cops, who can intervene before fire [department units] can arrive," Banta-Green told KIRO 7.

"But one bike cop down an alley in Pine Square overnight may not see the person, it may be too late. That’s one situation. The opposite is state patrol, in Palouse, Washington, no one is there.”

The financial cost of naloxone  

For police agencies, much of the funding comes from grants and donations. KIRO 7 News filed a public disclosure request with SPD in December last year, asking if taxpayers dollars were spent on any supplies or training. The department delayed our request three times and still hasn't provided an answer.

A lawsuit filed by King County against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma shed some light on the costs for emergency response — through court documents, but not in detailed public statements from county leaders.

The complaint seeks to hold Perdue accountable in the wake of the Seattle-area's crisis. It specified how much was spent on training and EMS paramedics that responded to calls involving naloxone administration. Since 2016, King County has spent more than $1.8 million. That number does not include supplies for Seattle police or fire departments.

Normalizing naloxone could help in battling the crisis, some say 

With the increase in access and resources, KIRO 7 News has reported on a variety of naloxone stories over the last few years on our Facebook page, and on many of those posts people have weighed in about how this death-reversing drug has changed their life. But there's a large number of people on our Facebook page who vocalized they don't believe drug users "deserve" this second chance or that naloxone exacerbates drug use.




The clash in comments sparked KIRO 7 to look into this story, and in addition to hearing how naloxone can be a tipping point for long-term treatment -- so is acceptance, leaders say. Seattle police, recovery advocates, and health officials echo that treating addiction like a disorder or disease -- rather than a crime or moral failure -- is key in averting the crisis.

Bell says that naloxone and addiction for many come with stigma and shame, but that as society accepts it as a small part of the recovery process, the fewer mental obstacles there are for people getting into treatment.

For Bell, it took time in jail and almost losing his dog in a car accident, before seeking treatment. As a certified peer counselor,  he's helping people get help sooner.

"All it took [for me] was someone saying, 'Hey, I've been there before let's see what [treatment] works for you,'" he said. "When you're around people also using, they always want something from you, because it's about survival. [They think] where am I going to sleep, get my drugs so I don't get sick? But when you come to this [SASG] they want to be around you because they love you and want to help you, and I want to help others."

"The opposite of addiction is a connection with other people, when you start rebuilding your life you get to choose what you get to let into it  ... Every time I was in [an overdose] situation where I essentially died, I knew I did not want that to be the end of my life. And I am lucky I got four second chances."

More coverage about naloxone from KIRO 7