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The Healer: Dr. Joan Papp 

ER Doctor, MetroHealth


As she watched patient after patient walk through the emergency room at Metro dealing with opiate-related afflictions—overdoses, withdrawals, infections, etc.—Dr. Joan Papp was seeing firsthand what was going on in the community.

Heroin has reached epidemic levels in Northeast Ohio in recent years. The drug is cheaper than oxycodone and more accessible. Younger and younger people are dabbling in the hard drug with disastrous effects as overdose deaths have skyrocketed.

Earlier this year, Dr. Papp officially launched a pilot program, Project DAWN, to combat the deaths.

Narcan is a drug whose sole purpose of reversing opiate overdoses – no side effects, no addictive qualities. Administered to someone going through an overdose, it knocks the drug off the receptors in the brain immediately, saving lives that would otherwise have been added to the growing tally of disturbing overdose stats. Unfortunately, Ohio law currently precludes users or their family or friends from acquiring the drug to have on hand.

Project DAWN, with two locations in Northeast Ohio at the Free Clinic and in Parma, is the test launch for change that could bring the drug to those in need.

"We have 160 people enrolled," she says. "And we have 10 documented reversals with another six or so undocumented reversals based on verbal reports. And we'll begin the process of distributing narcan through the ER at Metro by the end of the month, sending patients home with kits."

Dr. Papp's been at Metro since 2007—she also did her residency at the hospital—and credits the institution and Cuyahoga County with supporting the project. But the pilot program is just the first step.

"Ohio House Bill 170, which would allow first responders access to narcan and would allow family and friends to receive a prescription, has been introduced and gone through its first hearing. We know there are a lot of overdose deaths.," Papp says. "We're just hoping it continues to gain more steam. This can and does save lives."

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