HUDSON FALLS — While Angelique Harrington was yearning for her son to wake up from a major heroin overdose she was given three bits of advice by medical staff: pray, hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
Harrington was prepared. In fact, she had been prepared for about a half a year.
Because when the worst came, she wanted to be ready.
Harrington knew deep down the morning of Nov. 18, 2016, was coming; she just didn’t know when.
When she found her son, Josh Beck, face-down on his bedroom floor, struggling to breathe, she ran for her Narcan kit. He had been released from state prison only eight days earlier.
“My immediate reaction was to scream. My husband and other son both came running to Josh’s room as I was calling 911,” Harrington said replaying that cold fall morning in her head.
“Then I administered both doses of Narcan in my kit. There was no response from Josh. When the police department came, they also gave him two doses of Narcan, still no response. When the EMTs arrived, they administered two more doses of Narcan, no response.”
After four days of being unresponsive, hooked up to a ventilator and an IV drip of Narcan, Beck came to.
“The doctors have told us that if we didn’t have Narcan, he wouldn’t have made it,” Harrington said.
She had been trained to use Narcan while he was in prison.
“Narcan saved his life.”
Today, Harrington carries the lifesaving drug around in her purse.
The surge of people who have died in the opioid epidemic has shocked the nation, with overdoses now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, according to an article in The New York Times. Those who have lost someone are usually pained and scarred for life.
But most drug users do not die.
Far more like Beck, 23, are caught in the vicious cycle of addiction — and so are families like his.
“What is it like having a loved one that struggles with substance abuse disorder? It’s devastating,” Harrington said.
“What happens next is, we get sick right along with them.”
Harrington talked about the constant state of fear and panic she and her family lived with each day.
“We are afraid of the phone ringing, or that knock on the door,” she said.
She mentioned how relapse is a normal part of recovery and how that November morning was his relapse and her slap-in-the-face moment.
“I never thought my son would overdose. Not my child. ... I was in denial,” Harrington said.
But Beck’s a little different from many people who struggle with a heroin addiction, because he’s only overdosed once during his almost four years of using.
Often, rescue personnel are called back to the same house for the same person who needs saving, explained Warren County Undersheriff Shawn Lamouree.
In 2017, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office administered Narcan on three separate occasions, administering multiple doses to each victim. Each overdose was reversed.
Narcan, also known by the generic name naloxone, counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose.
This year, they’ve administered Narcan to one person numerous times and it was not reversible.
The Sheriff’s Office’s kits have two doses per kit, the standard amount that can be purchased in a pharmacy.
Warren County experienced a significant rise in suspected heroin overdoses last year — more than double the total reported for all of 2016.
Lamouree said he thinks the department doesn’t get nearly the amount of calls as overdoses because Narcan has been accessible to everyone in pharmacies since last year.
“I think now when you have a friend or family member who is addicted, you’re getting the training and the Narcan to be ready,” Lamouree said.
Just like Harrington.
She was trained by the Nar-Anon Family Group in South Glens Falls, which is also where she said she started her recovery.
“For a long time I struggled in silence, in fear of being judged. I sat home and cried, worried, prayed,” Harrington said.
“Nar-Anon has been life changing for me.”
Nar-Anon a support group in South Glens Falls that offers a free 12-step program and allows people in the same situation to share similar experiences and hope. The class is free and open to everyone.
‘Life is good’
Today, life for the family is different.
Harrington worries less, but still worries. She admitted she’ll still sneak into Beck’s room at night to make sure he’s breathing. She says the fear of relapse will always be there, but in general, “life is good.”
For Beck, he’s busy being a dad.
“I’ve got a life of my own that I’m actually happy to have and a beautiful daughter who wouldn’t have met her father if it wasn’t for Narcan,” Beck said.
“If it wasn’t for my mom taking a Narcan safety class, I’d be dead today.”
Saturday night, the mother and son played Cards Against Humanity together at the Hope and Healing Recovery Community Center in Hudson Falls. Next Saturday, they are giving a talk together at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Mechanicville.
Beck’s been clean for more than 470 days.
“My advice for other families: you’re not alone. There are plenty of families out there in this community with a loved one that is struggling,” Harrington said.
“If I had never gone to Nar-Anon, I wouldn’t have known about Narcan.”
“I will continue to go to this meeting as it saved my life, and literally saved my son’s life.”