This is a guest blog written by MDC coalition member, Brittany Hong. If you are interested in submitting a guest blog, please email Deborah Crouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2016, drug overdose deaths have been estimated, based on preliminary data by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to reach 65,000. That’s more than HIV/AIDS at the height of the epidemic in the mid ’90s. Most of these deaths are preventable, but the stigma associated with drug use has blocked the widespread adoption of life-saving overdose prevention policies, including Good Samaritan, 911 legislation and distribution of the overdose reversal medication naloxone. Naloxone (narcan) is widely believed to be one of the most important tools that we have to prevent overdose deaths.
So what exactly is Naloxone?
Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications.
Who should have access to Naloxone?
ANYONE and EVERYONE that knows someone who is in active addiction or who has an opioid prescription should carry Naloxone. “Administering naloxone can prevent death in many opioid overdoses by reversing the life-threatening effects of opioids almost immediately, allowing time, and this is critical, for the person to reach further medical treatment,” said John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, Tennessee Health Commissioner, in a Sept. 12, 2016 press release. “This ‘overdose antidote’ can save lives and give more people a second chance at recovery.”
In 2016, legislators in Tennessee passed legislation authorizing pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. The legislation sets up a statewide pharmacy practice agreement for opioid antagonist therapy, which authorizes the Tennessee Department of Health’s chief medical officer to enter the collaborative agreement with any willing, licensed practicing pharmacist. The statewide collaborative agreement allows for any licensed pharmacist to legally dispense naloxone without a prescription. Participating pharmacists are required to show proof of training in opioid antagonist therapy within the past two years. They may dispense naloxone to at-risk individuals as well as family and friends of individuals at risk for an opioid overdose. Under the legislation, pharmacists may train and dispense naloxone to “good Samaritans.” Training is available on the Tennessee Department of Health website.
More online trainings can be found at http://www.getnaloxonenow.org/index.aspx. Get Naloxone Now (GNN) is an online resource to train people to respond effectively to an opioid-associated overdose emergency. GNN advocates for widespread access to overdose education and training in how to administer naloxone, the life-saving antidote for opioid-associated overdose. GNN seeks to increase the number of lives saved by bystanders and professional first responders (police officers, firefighters and EMTs). If you are interested in finding out how you can contribute to reducing overdose deaths, please visit the GNN online training modules.
Doctors can also prescribe naloxone to patients who are in medication-assisted treatment (MAT), especially if the patient is taking medications used in MAT or considered a risk for opioid overdose. Candidates for naloxone are those who:
- Take high doses of opioids for long-term management of chronic pain
- Receive rotating opioid medication regimens
- Have been discharged from emergency medical care following opioid poisoning or intoxication
- Take certain extended-release or long-acting opioid medications
- Are completing mandatory opioid detoxification or abstinence program
Where can I find more information about Naloxone?
Tennessee Department of Health:
Tennessee Overdose Prevention:
OPEN (Overdose Prevention and Eduction Network):
If you or someone you know is suffering from the disease of addiction, please do not suffer in silence. There is help and there is hope! Please visit www.metrodrug.org for information on how to contact the Tennessee Redline for treatment options.