Baltimore City Overdose Antidote Demand Outpacing Supply

An article in The Baltimore Sun reports how in the face of increased demand for and an increase of costs of naloxone, the Baltimore City Health Department is running low on supplies of the medication.

Demand for naloxone, an opioid antagonist that helps reverse an overdose, has increased as measures have been put into place to ease access to the medication in an effort to get it into the hands of those best situated to provide help during an overdose. Costs for the medication have risen along side demand.

Dr. Leana Wen, the city health commissioner, said demand has jumped significantly along with the drug epidemic and the health department needs funding for more supplies.

“We are rationing,” she said. “We’re deciding who is at the highest risk and giving it to them.”

The city has about 4,000 doses left to last until next May. The department will distribute them, two at a time, to residents, including IV drug users encountered by the city’s needle exchange vans or by outreach workers in “hotspots,” areas where a spate of overdoses recently occurred.

“If I had 10,000 doses and gave them to everyone who requested them, I’d run out in about two weeks,” Wen said.

Naloxone has become the cornerstone of the public health community’s emergency response to skyrocketing fatalities from opioids that include prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, a powerful drug commonly mixed into heroin without the users knowledge. The goal is to keep opioid users alive long enough to get them into treatment.

And though Wen has more units on hand than she’s had in some recent years, she said it’s not enough to keep pace with rising needs.

Maryland health officials recently reported that 2,089 people fatally overdosed in the state in 2016, up 66 percent from 2015. About a third of the overall deaths, 694, were in Baltimore and the shares were higher for heroin and fentanyl. There are an estimated 21,000 active heroin users in Baltimore.

For more information read The Baltimore Sun