Nurse Andy Gish started noticing more and more drug overdose cases coming through the emergency room at Northside Hospital as far back as 2009-2010.
“A lot of them were in bad shape,” Andy said. “A lot of them weren’t waking up.”
By 2014, Georgia lawmakers were ready to address the problem and so was Andy.
She testified before lawmakers in support of legislation that put Georgia ahead of most states in the opioid crisis with passage of what’s sometimes called the 911 medical amnesty law.
The law provides limited immunity from arrest and prosecution for individuals seeking medical help for themselves or others for a drug overdose. Another provision expands access to naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan and can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.
The legislation passed in 2014, the same year Andy, a musician and 12-year emergency room nurse, began volunteering with Georgia Overdose Prevention and the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition.
To date, the organizations have given out naloxone that has reversed a minimum of 1,000 potentially life-threatening overdoses, Andy said.
Mary “Reese” Craig, Andy’s manager in Northside’s ER, said Andy deserves recognition for her efforts.
“Andy’s passion for this cause is evident both in her personal life and professional career as she educates not only her patients but also members of her community,” she said.
Andy meets with addicts to educate them on the amnesty law, as well as how and when to use Narcan. She also was interviewed on television news in 2017 about the increased opioid epidemic, she said.
“Andy’s influence has definitely had a positive impact on this growing epidemic,” Mary said.
According to the Substance Abuse Research Alliance, the number of prescription opioid overdose deaths has increased 200 percent in the U.S. since 2000. In Georgia, 549 opioid drug overdoses were reported in 2015, with 29 of the state’s 159 counties having drug overdose rates surpassing the national average.
Andy stresses that with the 2014 law, education and Narcan that doesn’t have to be the case.
“You don’t have to die of an overdose. Literally, nobody has to die.”
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