Naloxone Training Takes Off When Drug Becomes Available
The Cabell-Huntington Health Department was the first in the state to begin a needle exchange program—a program that allows addicts to exchange their used needles for clean ones in order to prevent the spread of diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Along with a needle exchange, the department has also implemented a training program to teach members of the public how to use the life-saving drug naloxone. But when those trainings began in the fall, they were sparsely attended. Things have changed though since the health department received a donation of naloxone auto-injectors.
Each Wednesday around 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., a Marshall University Pharmacy School Professor teaches anyone who will sit through the hour session how to use a naloxone auto-injector. The trainings however aren’t limited to just that form of opioid antagonist, but also expose trainees to naloxone or narcan nasal sprays.
On a Wednesday in late March, three men joined the Pharmacy Professor for the afternoon session. One man-- who wished to remain nameless—says as a former heroin user who has been clean for a year, he just wants to prepare himself for the possibility of a friend’s overdose.
"Simply because I could help somebody, a close friend of mine or something. I wouldn’t want the idea of knowing I could have helped someone and didn’t have the tools to do it with," said the man taking the training.
C.K. Babcock is the Pharmacy school professor that teaches the classes each Wednesday. When he began the trainings in September in conjunction with the Needle Exchange program, Babcock says barely anyone came.
"Would you come to a training where you learned how to play baseball, but you never got to play baseball? No and that’s exactly how people are here, they’re not going to be able to come in for the training if they can’t get the product, well some people did without the product, but boy we’ve got a lot more with the product," Babcock said.
"Would you come to a training where you learned how to play baseball, but you never got to play baseball? No." -- C.K. Babock, Marshall University School of Pharmacy Professor.
In February, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department received a donation of 2,200 Naloxone auto-injectors or EVZIO from Kaleo Pharma. The injectors are filled with opioid antagonists, or drugs that reverse the effects of an overdose. When combined with additional medical care, drugs like Naloxone or narcan can save someone’s life.
Babcock says since receiving the donation, he’s watched as more and more people have walked through the door to his training. But the lack of free medications wasn’t the only thing keeping people from attending.
Before the donation, Babock says it could often be difficult to find doctors willing to prescribe Naloxone or narcan which a law approved in 2015 allows. Now after they take the class, participants are written a prescription by Doctor Michael Kilkenny, the director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. The prescription is written for any of the three types of overdose medications to have filled at a local pharmacy.
"Not all physicians are comfortable prescribing this, especially for people they don’t treat, although the Good Samaritan Law allows us to do that, it still has some constraints, we do have to get educational contact with that person and we have to report who we’ve prescribed too," Kilkenny said.
That Good Samaritan Law was passed by lawmakers in 2015 and prevents a person from being charged with certain crimes when they call for medical help for someone who is overdosing. It paired with a bill to allow friends and family members of addicts to receive an opioid antagonist prescription to help save lives.
During this year’s legislative session another bill-- Senate Bill 431-- was passed which will allow pharmacists and pharmacy interns to dispense opioid antagonists, like naloxone without a prescription. The Board of Pharmacy will develop protocols for the distributions.
And access isn’t just being expanded in Huntington. Efforts are being made all over the state to help deal with the issue of overdose deaths. Charleston received a donation of 200 cases of naloxone in mid-March. And while both the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department are training the public to use the naloxone anti-dote, EMS, Firefighters and Police across the state are being trained and using them every day. In 2015 according to the Department of Health and Human Resources there were 2505 instances where naloxone was used for those suffering from an overdose.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.