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Syracuse Narcan trainer dies of apparent overdose: ‘The stigma is so bad’

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media
Kevin Donovan in 2018.

A Syracuse resident, who trained thousands of people on how to use Narcan, a lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, has himself, died from an apparent overdose. Kevin Donovan worked at ACR Health in Syracuse, and coworkers remember his passion for helping others. 

Wil Murtaugh, executive director of ACR health said of the thousands of people Donovan trained, more than 500 used their Narcan kits.

“That means, 500 people’s lives were reversed,” Murtaugh said.

Murtaugh said Donovan shared his own past struggle with addiction in his training. He said a couple people may have known Donovan was occasionally using again, but he said Donovan never asked for help the way he should have.

“We’re all hurting a little bit, because he knows we were here for him and he could’ve come to us anytime and got that support," Murtaugh said. "This is a typical overdose. We’ve had many of them. People end up using alone, and they die alone, because they don’t have those supports around them that they need. We try, and Kevin did too, to educate everyone. Do not use alone. Do a test shot. Make sure there is Narcan in the house.”

This is not the first time this has happened at ACR Health. Two other staff members lost their lives to overdoses in 2016 and 2017.

In one of his last interviews with WRVO earlier this year, Donovan talked about how he trained employees at TCGPlayer in Syracuse to use Narcan, and they used that training not long after, to revive a woman who overdosed in their space. At the time, Donovan said he wasn’t surprised when he heard that.

“What made me really happy, was their willingness to share their story, and to say, this is a positive thing we want to do for our community," Donovan said. "That’s a life. The stigma is so bad, sometimes this stuff happens, and people don’t want to share it, or want anything to do with it in the public vision.” 

ACR Health is advocating for the creation of overdose prevention centers, also known as supervised injection facilities, so people can inject drugs safely, under supervision, which could save lives.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.