Taylor Kay was driving on Interstate 290, heading east near Chicago, when a car veered across lanes of traffic into the highway median.
"I thought, 'Something is wrong,'" the 26-year-old said. "So I get out of my car, and I see he's overdosing, with a needle still in his arm."
Kay recognized what was happening to the driver because it could have happened to her. She had used heroin for six years, until she was 24, and she herself has overdosed. She knew what to do.
"I go to my car and I get my Narcan, because I always have it with me," Kay said, referring to the brand name of the drug naloxone, which quickly reverses opioid overdoses. "Once I put the Narcan in him, it took about 20 seconds. … I was so scared that this kid was going to die."
He didn't; he woke up, Kay said. She called 911, and the paramedics who arrived later told her the driver had taken fentanyl — a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
"Any longer," Kay said, "he would have died."
It's an epidemic playing out across America as prescription painkillers lead to addiction, and their price on the street often causes people to turn to heroin. In 2015, for the first time, the number of deaths from heroin overdoses in the U.S. surpassed those from gun homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In total, more than 33,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdoses.
As the number of opioid overdoses has skyrocketed in the U.S., so has the price of the drug that can wake someone up from a situation like Kay described. And in some cases, the rising prices make it hard for first responders and others to carry naloxone, which public health experts say threatens their ability to save lives.
"I've seen the price of Narcan as well as epinephrine just skyrocket," said Brandon Heard, a fire department captain in Farmington, New Mexico. While he referred to the brand name Narcan, Farmington Fire uses a generic form of the medicine. "It makes it difficult for us as a municipality to purchase the same medications and provide the same treatment and abilities that we have in years past."