Vernon Lewis grabbed the neighbor boy’s bicycle in the middle of the night and pedaled 4 miles down Denver streets to find the unconscious man under a bridge along the South Platte River.
The man’s girlfriend had called Lewis at 2:30 a.m. when her boyfriend overdosed on heroin, and as Lewis pumped down Alameda Avenue, he talked her through CPR. When Lewis found them, he reached for the syringe he carries in a pouch in his back pocket and plunged it through the man’s jacket and into the meat of his upper arm.
The shot of a liquid drug with the power to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose worked again. The man woke up and started to breathe.
In five years, Lewis, whose own life was saved with a dose of naloxone after a 2010 heroin overdose, has rescued 91 people who might never have woken up without the antidote drug, which once sold under the brand name Narcan. Known on Denver’s streets as the “uber of Narcan” and the “naloxone ninja,” people keep his cell number in their phones and call him day or night, 20 to 25 times per year.
Lewis, who works at the drug treatment and counseling Harm Reduction Action Center, has carried the drug since the center started giving it to drug users in 2012. A year later, the legislature passed a law that allows anyone — from law enforcement to relatives and friends of people with opioid addictions — to fill a naloxone prescription.