Retired Firefighter Is On a Mission to Help Rescue Opioid Overdose Victims: ‘Hope Exists’

BY Louise Chambers TIMEMay 16, 2020 PRINT

A retired Florida firefighter is changing lives. Through active fundraising, he is distributing a free nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in vulnerable communities across the nation.

Luis Garcia, from Boynton Beach, Florida, and his army of volunteers have brought 176 overdose victims back from the brink of death in the almost three years since the mission’s onset.

Garcia, 53, shared his story with The Epoch Times in an email interview.

Epoch Times Photo
Luis Garcia, a retired firefighter from Boynton Beach, Florida. (Courtesy of Luis Garcia)

The Wonder Drug

A trained firefighter and paramedic with 28 years of experience, Garcia retired from Boynton Beach Fire Rescue in 2011. In December of 2016, he was alerted to a new FDA-approved layperson-administered drug that had the capacity to reverse an opioid overdose.

Garcia noted that the drug, a nasal spray named Narcan, delivers a dosage of naloxone four to eight times higher than the initial dosage administered by first responders in the case of an overdose.

“My inspiration was simple science,” Garcia, who got on board, explained. “A higher dose of naloxone, easily administered by anybody, would save many more lives.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Luis Garcia)

Narcan is an “opioid antagonist,” which immediately binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, negating the effect of the drug, Grias explained. The nasal spray reverses the overdose and restores respiratory function if administered in a timely manner. Additionally, the FDA states that it can be administered by anyone, even those without medical training. “The drug is sprayed into one nostril while the patient is lying on his or her back, and can be repeated if necessary,” the FDA explained. However, they also noted that it is not a substitute for immediate medical care.

Alluding to who can use Narcan, Garcia told The Epoch Times that “Any one-day-old baby, animal, 100-year-old lady weighing 70 pounds, or muscular 30-year-old man who has overdosed 10 times will respond to Narcan.” But Narcan, he clarified, will only work in the event of an opioid overdose. It will neither help nor hurt any other medical condition.

After being denied a state grant, Garcia made the selfless decision to spend $50,000 of his own money on almost 4,900 Narcan sprays, worth around $50 a dose. “[I] donated them to my students,” he said, “who have saved 176 human lives in 33 months.”

In November 2017, Garcia named his mission the “USA Opioid Crisis Mortality Reduction with NARCAN,” and started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for his ongoing outreach.

Community Involvement

Garcia’s mission to deliver free Narcan to the communities most affected by the opioid crisis is multifaceted. “I offer free two-hour community classes, do 30-minute classes at community health fairs, have created three one-hour training videos, and also do 15-minute classes for the homeless,” Garcia explained.

Garcia keeps his finger on the pulse of his local Florida community and stresses that additional support is vital.

“I listen to fire rescue scanner radios and respond in real time, when I’m close, to administer Narcan,” he said. “Also, I visit businesses where an overdose occurred to offer free sprays and training.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Luis Garcia)

When asked whether any overdose cases have affected him emotionally, Garcia explained that he is careful to remain “clinically detached.”

“During my career, I administered [Narcan] over 3,000 times,” he said. “I have also personally sprayed 16 victims in Southeast Florida and saved 15 of them with one spray. In the beginning I was touched by success stories, but the unhappy endings overwhelmed my heart.”

Epoch Times Photo
Marion County, Florida, sheriff’s headquarters, where Garcia trained and equipped almost 150 citizens in two classes. (Courtesy of Luis Garcia)

‘Hope Exists’

However, Garcia believes that his mission’s biggest obstacle is the stigma attached to addiction, and the commonly held “false belief” that opioid addiction is a choice. “No addict chooses a life of pain and anguish,” he said.

Reflecting further on the challenges he faces, Garcia said: “Unless a person lost somebody to the disease of substance use disorder, or is in 12-step recovery of any kind, or works in the addiction field, or knows a young person battling drugs whom they consider a ‘good person,’ most people do not understand this disease or actively support my mission.”

The retired firefighter has no personal experience with drugs or addiction, but after decades spent working with others, he firmly believes that change is possible. “Hope exists,” he asserted, “if the person seeks professional help.”

(Video courtesy of Luis Garcia)

Past, Present, and Future

Looking back on a longevous career of helping people, Garcia cited the “greatest highlights” of his vocational life as “delivering 17 babies in the back of my paramedic ambulance,” and “rescuing an unconscious female from an inferno-like house fire in 2008.”

Garcia’s retired status is not stopping him from continuing his efforts to help save lives. On March 1, 2020, Garcia’s mission became an official Florida nonprofit awaiting IRS approval and is steadily gaining visibility.

In the wake of the pandemic, which has swept across the world, Garcia has pledged up to five months of his time to focus on providing personal protective equipment, free of charge, to the public during drive-up events. In addition, Garcia also mentioned that he will continue to distribute Narcan.

Epoch Times Photo
Luis Garcia standing in front of City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue (Station 2), where he served as a firefighter toward the end of his 28-year career. (Courtesy of Luis Garcia)

Garcia’s mission to help more people is made possible through ongoing donations to his GoFundMe page; it’s “the only way I can continue doing what I’m doing,” he explained. In recognition of his incredible efforts to fight opioid overdose in vulnerable communities, the crowdfunding site has even featured Garcia as one of its annual “heroes.”

To date, Garcia’s fund has raised just over $58,000 of its $100,000 goal.

“I do not consider myself a hero,” Garcia reflected. “Each of the 176 persons with no fire rescue background who attended my two-hour class, and then sprayed a stranger, is the hero.”

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Louise Chambers is a writer, born and raised in London, England. She covers inspiring news and human interest stories.
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