LIFE-SAVING DRUG. Joe Solomon, co-director of Charleston-based
Solutions Oriented Addiction Response, holds a dose of the opioid
overdose reversal drug Narcan at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation
of Charleston in Charleston, West Virginia, in this September 6, 2022
file photo. Naloxone, available as a nasal spray and in an injectable
form, is a key tool in the battle against a nationwide overdose crisis
linked to the deaths of more than 100,000 people annually in the U.S.
(AP Photo/Leah Willingham, File)
Jessie Blanchard’s Jeep bumper holds a sticker with the slogan "Yes
We Narcan" on January 23, 2023, in Albany, Georgia. Naloxone, available
as a nasal spray and in an injectable form, is a key tool in the battle
against a nationwide overdose crisis linked to the deaths of more than
100,000 people annually in the U.S. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
From The Asian Reporter, V33, #2 (February 6, 2023), page 9.
Experts urge better opioid rescue drug access to save
By Geoff Mulvihill and Sharon Johnson
The Associated Press
ALBANY, Ga. — Jessie Blanchard started small nearly five years ago,
just trying to get enough of the rescue drug naloxone that reverses
opioid overdoses to keep her daughter from dying from an overdose.
She pleaded with colleagues at the college where she’s an adjunct
teacher in Albany, Georgia, to use their prescription benefits to get
two doses every six months.
Now she loads her Jeep every week and heads out with a few other
volunteers to bring the antidote — naloxone, commonly known by its brand
name Narcan — to hundreds of others in the town of 70,000.
At parking lots and intersections she also supplies clean needles,
fentanyl test strips, and a nonjudgemental sounding board — an effort
now partly funded by a state government grant. At least nine times in
December alone, Blanchard said, rescue drugs she provided were used to
"I’ve got story-after-story, story-after-story of people coming up to
me," said Blanchard, a nurse whose organization is called 229 Safer
Living Access, a reference to the Albany area code the group’s work
covers. "They say, ‘Miss Jessie, they had to Narcan me the other day and
I’d have died if it wasn’t for you.’"
Naloxone, available as a nasal spray and in an injectable form, is a
key tool in the battle against a nationwide overdose crisis linked to
the deaths of more than 100,000 people annually in the U.S. State and
federal policy changes have removed some major obstacles to getting it
into the hands of police, firefighters, people who use drugs, and their
loved ones. But it’s still often frustratingly inaccessible in the
moments when overdoses happen.
Stephen Murray, an overdose survivor and former paramedic who
researches overdoses at Boston Medical Center, is so committed to
naloxone access that he proclaims it on his personalized license plate:
"My vision for it is to be in every 24-hour gas station in the state,
free or 25 cents a dose," he said. "It’ll be between the Tylenol and the
condoms. ... It has to be just as easy as buying heroin, basically."
There’s more naloxone than ever thanks to federal and state policies,
and groups like Blanchard’s that distribute it in their communities.
It’s available free in old newspaper vending boxes in Michigan, which
now hold naloxone kits, and in a vending machine in Philadelphia. One
group, NEXT Distro, mails it nationwide for free. But Murray’s vision is
not close to being realized in most places.
An influx of money is on the way, intended to help deal with the
national overdose crisis that killed 107,000 people in 2021 — the
highest tally ever — most involving fentanyl and other powerful illicit
Drug makers, distribution companies, and pharmacies have settled
lawsuits with state and local governments, and the first funding
totalling more than $50 billion is going out. Most of it must be used to
address the opioid epidemic, though exactly how will be up to
governments receiving the money. Some settlements are being delivered
partly in doses of naloxone.
In a 2021 report, public health experts convened by the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health listed expanding naloxone access as
the first strategy for using settlement funds, noting that 40% of
overdose deaths happen when someone else is present and possibly able to
administer the life-saving drug.
As with other harm-reduction strategies, there’s been pushback from
those who believe making naloxone available enables drug use. But Jeff
Breedlove, policy chief for the Georgia Council for Recovery, said he no
longer sees that as much of an issue.
Instead, he said, funding and distribution programs remain spotty
because they don’t have enough support from government and private
groups such as chambers of commerce. "Until they treat it like an
epidemic," Breedlove said, "we will continue to have more and more
Since 2016, the federal government has allowed and encouraged federal
funds to be used to buy naloxone.
Officials in every state have given standing orders to pharmacies
allowing people to buy it, even without prescriptions.
That’s a major factor for the massive increase in how much has been
distributed through retail pharmacies. A report by the American Medical
Association and IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science found there were
just over 1,000 orders filled in 2012. By 2021, it was nearly 1.2
But not all pharmacies carry it. And it comes at a cost: For those
without insurance coverage, it can be around $50 for two doses.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering allowing
some forms of naloxone to be sold over-the-counter without a
prescription, a move that could lower the cost.
Randy Anderson, who is in recovery himself and works as a recovery
consultant, said he’s handed out some 100,000 doses of naloxone in
Minnesota. He believes from his time using drugs that pharmacy
availability doesn’t do much to help people who need it most.
"There was no way I would spend $10 for something to save my life
when I needed that money to buy drugs," he said.
Aside from cost, there are other barriers to getting naloxone to drug
In Alabama, for instance, a pharmacist, physician, or public health
nurse must be involved in the distribution. But the state does have a
program to mail the antidote to anyone who requests it.
Maya Doe-Simkins, a co-director of Remedy Alliance/For The People,
which helps provide naloxone to groups working to prevent overdose
deaths, said programs don’t always prioritize getting the antidote to
people who use drugs.
"If they’re not matched up and directed where they should be, we’re
going to see more and more naloxone sitting on the shelves of church
basements, expiring," she said.
Colin Dwyer, a former social entrepreneur-in-residence at the
Stanford School of Business, founded the Overdose Crisis Response Fund
to try to boost small distribution efforts across the country, including
Blanchard’s in Albany.
"All I actually care about is what has the probability of saving the
most lives the fastest," Dwyer said.
One of his grantees, Talia Rogers, distributes naloxone and other
supplies in Kirksville, Missouri, through a one-person operation, Show
Me Harm Reduction, which she initially funded with money she made
working as a nanny.
She’s now a consultant for the Missouri Institute of Mental Health
and gets naloxone through the state’s use of a federal grant.
"If they’re not getting Narcan, or naloxone, through me, they’re not
getting it," Rogers said.
Ron Stewart, an emergency preparedness planner for Adair County,
which includes Kirksville, said it provides naloxone only to first
responders now, but he’s hopeful a state program will soon make it
available to the public, too.
In Albany, Blanchard gets naloxone through Georgia Opioid Prevention,
which receives a state grant.
In 2022, she handed out more than 1,800 doses — far more than the
public health district for Southwest Georgia, which gave out 280 doses
to people who showed up at health department offices in an isolated
corner of Albany and to community organizations.
One of her clients, who asked to be identified only by his first
name, Jomo, because he uses illegal drugs, said he’s glad for the
supplies. "Because this is something we’re going to do anyway," he said.
Blanchard said 26 people have come to her group for help getting into
treatment programs, and 19 are currently not using.
She recalled her desperation in 2018, trying to help her daughter,
then a teenager. Now 22, her daughter is still using.
"She’s so beautiful and so perfect," Blanchard said. "And because of
harm reduction, she’s still alive and she’s healthy and she’s thriving."
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The Associated Press
Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes
Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is
solely responsible for all content.
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