“Surgeon General wants Americans to Carry Narcan” “You don’t have to be a policeman or a firefighter or a paramedic to save a life.” Jerome Adams, Surgeon General (AP press release, April 6, 2018).

“Hi. It’s Ben. I’m just calling to say Hi and see how you’re making out down there.” Ben Rivell

At the beginning of the funeral service for Ben Rivell, his father, Bill Rivell, played the above message which he had saved on his phone. All of us at the funeral were stunned to hear Ben’s voice.  Yet, it was somehow comforting. At that point, we were still in disbelief, still coming to terms with the fact that this wonderful young man was dead.

In 28 years, Ben had made all of us proud–serving his country in the Air Force, including a tour of duty in Iraq, earning his degree in Computer Science from West Chester University, collaborating with other professionals in his work at the University of Pennsylvania, buying his first home…as well as the countless friends he made over the years, his incredible sense of humor, his openness to everyone, his talent as an athlete, his love of music, hearing him sing as he played his guitar.

Yes, it was great to hear Ben’s voice. But it’s heartbreaking to think we will not hear his voice again.

The circumstances of his death have left a terrible scar on the hearts of all who loved Ben. Ben died of an accidental drug overdose. His body was found in an unnumbered, abandoned house in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Investigators say he was not alone. Whoever was with him took his belongings. The police were able to make an identification through fingerprints.

As an alcohol and drug counselor, I have experienced too many versions of this story. As a catholic priest, I have been blessed to personally know and love Ben and others like him through the 20 years I worked at St. Mark’s High School. And, I’ve often cried with the families of so many wonderful young people whose futures have been stolen because the substance to which they are addicted is so available, so cheap, and so deadly.

I don’t know what will end this epidemic. But I believe we owe it to Ben and all the other victims of this crisis to do whatever it takes to create new ways to foster healing and wellness.

A significant and primary step is saving lives whenever possible. Naloxone (Narcan) can save lives. It is an FDA approved nasal spray used for the emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose.

I carry Narcan with me all the time. I encourage members of families related to an addicted person to carry Narcan. I encourage young people to carry Narcan if they know of or suspect someone who might be using drugs. I encourage those who use illegal drugs to carry Narcan. Let’s be honest. Those with the highest probability of being with someone who might need Narcan are those who actually use heroin.

I believe people are good. I believe that if someone had been with Ben in that unnumbered, abandoned house in Kensington, and had been carrying Narcan, Ben might still be alive.

We’ll never know how many lives might be saved if more people were to carry Narcan.

It’s great to receive a phone message from a loved one. It’s great just to hear their voice. It’s something we should never take for granted.


Published in the News-Journal, April 28, 2018

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