Two-dozen staff members of the various Manhattan bars huddled around the counter at Lucky Jacks, a local’s spot in the Lower East Side on Tuesday. They were there to get trained on when, and how, to administer Narcan – the brand name for the drug naloxone, a medication administered via nasal spray that reserves the effects of an opioid overdose.
Overdose prevention trainer Alexandra Clarke walked the bar staff through recognizing an overdose and how to use the nasal spray devices.
“So you’re going to want to peel open the blister, place the device in the person’s nose and press the device, which will release all the medication at one time,” Clarke said, demonstrating the move. “It takes naloxone about two to eight minutes to start working. So what you want to do then is wait for two minutes before administering the second dose.”
Each of the bars the attendees work at will be equipped with new city-administered kits containing two doses of naloxone, a CPR mask, gloves and instructions as part of the “Narcan Behind Every Bar” campaign.
The program was first launched in December 2021 by the city’s Office of Nightlife. It was later codified into city law in the fall when Mayor Eric Adams signed a bill introduced by councilmembers Chi Ossé and Keith Powers that provides free overdose prevention medication and training to nightlife establishments across the city.
The program is part of a concerted effort by the city to curb record-high overdose deaths, which have been largely driven by drugs cut with fentanyl, a cheap synthetic opioid that was found to be involved in more than 80% of overdose deaths in 2021, officials said.
For Lucky Jack’s owner Meghan Joye, who also owns several other bars in Manhattan, the decision to participate in the program was an easy one. She first put a Narcan kit behind the counter at Donnybrooks in Manhattan in 2019 after getting her hands on one at an NYPD Community Council where the Department of Health was presenting.
“I stuck it behind the bar and kind of didn’t think much of it until that night that there was that incident,” Joye told Gothamist.
That incident came two years later in the summer of 2021, when someone collapsed in the outdoor dining area outside of the bar. General Manager Maria Christianson sprang into action.
“I went over there. He was blueish gray. He was cold. He was totally unresponsive. He was barely breathing,” Christianson said.
She said she wasn’t sure if it was an overdose, but remembered the Narcan kit behind the bar, and knew it would be safe to use even if the person had not consumed opioids. Christianson had security call 911 and ran behind the bar to get the kit, rushing to read through the instructions and quickly administering the medication to the unconscious man. Then, she waited for emergency services to arrive.
“They also had to administer more Narcan, and then that’s when he finally came to, and thankfully he was okay. When he got in the ambulance, he was awake and talking,” she said. “It happened really fast. And thankfully, we had the resources at the time to prevent anything even worse from happening.”
For the bar’s management, the experience highlighted the importance of access to Narcan. On Tuesday, staff across all of Joye’s bars were trained on administering the drug.
“I will never condone illegal drug use in our bars, but the fact of the matter is that it happens and you know, if people choose to make that decision, I don’t believe they deserve to die from it,” Joye said.
The Narcan training sessions are usually held virtually, officials said. NYC nightlife community members can attend the next one on Tuesday, Feb. 21.