The goal of the project is to increase awareness of the opioid epidemic and recognizing the signs of an overdose.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As fentanyl and the opioid crisis continue to hit Portland, some are taking a proactive response to prevent overdoses, starting with equipping bars and restaurants with Narcan. 

Project RED — which stands for reduction, education and distribution — is a new overdose prevention initiative working to bring overdose medications and supplies to locations around Portland and eventually, beyond Multnomah County, taking its message directly to the community.

“It is built with the intention of mass distribution and accessibility to Narcan, this life-saving medicine that I think more people should be aware of and trained how to use,” said Ellen Wirshup, the Project RED program manager. 

Wirshup runs the program with the Alano Club of Portland, bringing Narcan and supplies like CPR kits to restaurants and bars, entertainment venues and even local schools, hoping to increase awareness of the opioid epidemic and when recognizing the signs of an overdose, be able to jump into action.

“I’m already working with quite a few different locations, as well as Portland Public Schools,” said Wirshup. “If someone is on a street corner and experiencing an opioid overdose, whoever is in the vicinity can run inside the nearest location, knock on the door, run inside and see if they have that available.”

One of the first bars to partner with Project RED is The Pharmacy on NW 23rd. Staff members even got hands-on training to know how to correctly give the opioid overdose reversal medication Narcan, also known as Naloxone.

“Most of us don’t have a real understanding of how to use the project,” said The Pharmacy owner, Brian Gardes, adding that it was a no-brainer to get involved with Project RED and have a supply on site. “It’s nothing that we ever want to have to use, but knowing we have it here is important to us, because if we’re going to save even one life, then that’s what’s important.”

Wirshup says she’s lost loved ones to substance use and overdoses, including someone recently, and as someone in recovery and who is sober, she wants to create a safe environment for herself and others, and it starts with finding solutions like preventing overdoses.

“I carry their memories in a lot of different ways and this job is definitely one of them and there’s a reason that I started it,” said Wirshup.

Project RED is working to partner with more businesses and venues to get Narcan supplies out there as well as training, both of which can be requested online. They’re also accepting donations.

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