By Jonathan Allen

The inmates filed into a room at a New York prison, squeezed into classroom-style desks, and watched a guard demonstrate how a small plastic tube could help them save lives when they return to the streets of a nation gripped by an opioid epidemic.

The weekly class at the Queensboro Correctional Facility in New York City is part of a state program to expand access to naloxone, a drug delivered through a nasal spray that can quickly revive someone who is overdosing on heroin or an opioid-based prescription painkiller.

By giving naloxone kits to inmates upon their release, New York state officials hope those in need will have a better chance of getting the antidote in time.

Some of the prisoners, dressed in baggy green prison uniforms, were surprised by the simplicity of the naloxone kits as they recalled the painful loss of friends or relatives killed by opioid addiction.

“It makes me think, ‘Jesus, if she had that, she would be saved’,” said Marc Webb, 34, reflecting on the overdose death of a close friend a few years ago. “I wish they had a nasal spray to stop addiction, period.”