Naloxone In Action

As the number of heroin overdose deaths continues to rise the state is working to expand access to naloxone, a medication that can be used to reverse an opioid overdose. In an investigative journalism piece The Baltimore Sun takes a look at the naloxone program and its impact so far on addicts, their families, law enforcement and treatment providers. As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

During the 2013 Maryland legislative session, families of addicts who had died of heroin overdoses pleaded their case to lawmakers and won unanimous approval for a measure allowing nonmedical personnel to be trained to administer the drug and receive a prescription for it.

Taylor and Haviland are two of the roughly 2,200 people who have been certified to use naloxone since health departments and other groups began offering classes in March.

Still, the measure remains controversial in some quarters.

Critics say the new program, like those that distribute clean needles, encourages heroin addicts to continue using by reducing the consequences.

“It exacerbates the problem because people think they can overdose [and] ‘someone can bring me around,’ ” said Israel Cason, the former heroin addict who has run the treatment program I Can’t We Can in Park Heights for 17 years. “They’re only treating the symptoms. They’re not dealing with the problem.”

But Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein said naloxone is an important component of a larger strategy to cope with the flood of more powerful heroin, often mixed with fentanyl, that has sent the rate of fatal overdoses skyrocketing.

There is no evidence in existing research, Sharfstein said, that making the antidote available increases drug use.

“People use for all sorts of reasons,” he said. “The fact that they have naloxone available is not a contributing factor.

“Heroin just destroys people’s lives completely. What keeps them in recovery is not just the fear of death, it’s losing their family, their house, everything.”

Police officers in a number of counties, including Anne Arundel and Carroll, have undergone training to carry and use naloxone. For instance, 150 officers in Frederick County went through training in July and since then at least one life has been saved through an officer’s use of the drug. The county is looking to expand the use of the scope of officers equipped with naloxone. As reported in The Frederick News-Post:

About half of the Frederick Police Department’s estimated 141 officers have undergone naloxone training, but only 12 carry the medication, Dudley said. The department is working with the Frederick County Health Department to secure a grant that will allow every officer to be equipped with naloxone.

“Our goal is to have everybody” carrying Narcan, Dudley said.

About 80 deputies from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office have received training and are carrying the medication, Maj. Tim Clarke said. The remaining 50 deputies designated to carry Narcan are scheduled to receive training before the end of this month.

Frederick Police Department and Frederick County Sheriff’s Office personnel began carrying the medication in July after undergoing a two-hour training held by the county health department. Upon completion, many received state-funded naloxone kits, which contain two doses of the medication. Not all officers carry it, however; the cost is $22 per dose.

Maryland State Police received a $40,000 grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to train and equip all road patrol troopers by Oct. 1, according to an August DHMH report.

For more information read the full articles in The Baltimore Sun and  The Frederick News-Post.