Across the country, someone dies of an opioid overdose every 24 minutes. In Massachusetts, the death toll is five people a day.
In the face of this epidemic, Cambridge could become the first city to take a step that until recently might have seemed unthinkable: It might place lockboxes on street corners to give the public easy access to Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, a medication that can rapidly revive people who have overdosed.
The idea is in its earliest stages, and any concrete plan for the city, and residents, to consider seems at least a year away. But several days ago, the city police and area doctors who support the boxes conducted an experiment here, asking people who walked by if they would help a stranger who had overdosed.
The officials placed a dummy on the ground on a brick plaza along busy Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, between two of this city's most drug-infested areas. Passers-by were asked to pretend they had just found an unconscious person. They were handed a cellphone, which was connected to someone acting as an emergency dispatcher.
The dispatcher directed them to a nearby lockbox, gave them a code to open it and then explained how to administer Narcan, a nasal spray. Doctors say Narcan is safe; if given to someone who has not overdosed, it does no harm. It is not addictive and cannot be abused.
"We want to see if regular people walking down the street would be willing to help someone who appeared to be overdosing," said Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of emergency services at Brigham and Women's Hospital, who oversaw the experiment. "And if they were willing to help, would they be able to help?"