Opioid Antidote To Become More Widely Available

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A potentially lifesaving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid-related drug overdose will soon be more widely available to the general public as the state tries to deal with the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in Ohio.

According to the Ohio Department of Health opioids are the driving factor behind unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio. In 2012, approximately two-third of the drug overdoses involved opioids.

In March, Governor John Kasich signed into law House Bill 170 which allows individuals, like friends or family, to administer antidote naloxone to a person who is experiencing an opioid-related overdose from either prescription painkillers or heroin. People can administer the drug without the fear of possible criminal prosecution as long as they call 911. In the past, only people who were consuming opioids or license medical professionals had access to the drug.

Naloxone kits will be made available through a program called “Project DAWN” (Death Avoidance With Naloxone).  According to Bill Dunlap, the deputy director of 317 Board, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services for Athens, Hocking and Vinton County; his agency has applied for a grant to purchase the kits which would then  be given to  local health departments.  The agency hopes to provide 100 kits to Athens County and 45 kits each to Hocking and Vinton counties. Each kit will cost the agency around $50 and will be provided to people who pick them up at local health departments for free. Dunlap said he hopes to have the kits ready by July or August.

The kit includes two doses of the drug and a DVD on how to recognize overdose symptoms and how to administer the naloxone.  An opioid overdose shuts down the respiratory system eventually causing them to stop breathing. “The skin can be blue, they can be sweating, they can be breathing slowly,” Dunlap explained.

If administered within five to 10 minutes of an overdose the drug can help reverse respiratory depression for up to 40 minutes allowing enough time for emergency first responders to arrive.

According to the Ohio Health Department the drug doesn’t work all the time depending on when it is given and on the amount of opioids in a persons’ system. Health officials said the drug can’t be abused and if overdose symptoms are misidentified the antidote wouldn’t be harmful.

The new law also allows law enforcement personnel to carry naloxone kits.

“Many times you don’t know who is going to show up first in such a situation,” Dunlap said.

If local law enforcement agencies want to provide kits to their officers they have to pay for them.

 “There is no funding in the bill to support the local law enforcement efforts,” Christy Beeghly, the Violence and Injury Prevention Program administrator at the Ohio Department of Health said.

There is no mandate for law enforcement agencies to carry the kits. It will be up to the communities to decide if they want to fund the kits, Beeghly explained.

If law enforcement decides to purchase the kits they have to get a distributor drug license through the Board of Pharmacy first.

Dunlap said his agency would help local law enforcement in Athens, Hocking and Vinton County purchase the kits if possible.

But not everyone is embracing the increased availability of the drug.

According to Beeghly and Dunlap there has been some pushback  by some in local communities who think people who are experiencing an overdose are not worth saving.

Other concerns include the effectiveness of the training people would receive on how to administer the drug and a possible increase in drug abuse because there is greater access to an antidote, Beeghly said.

But she said other states with naloxone programs report access to the antidote has not led to increased drug use.

Dunlap said the main goal is to give people a second chance. “Those people who get their lives saved we hope to drive them into treatment.”