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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Clarksburg VA Leads Nation for Successful Naloxone Program

Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans who receive care from the Clarksburg VA medical center lead the nation in a program that prevents drug overdose deaths. The program distributes Naloxone rescue kits to veterans who are at risk of overdose. Many of the kits have been used by veterans to save civilians who may have otherwise overdosed from opioids.

Veterans returning from combat often struggle with chronic pain and/or mental illness, and many are taking multiple medications. When combined… or when alcohol or non-prescribed drugs are also taken, these drugs can lead to a deadly overdose.

According to a 2011 study by the National Institutes of Health, fatal overdoses among veterans are twice as high as in the civilian population. From 2010 and 2015, the number of veterans addicted to opioids rose 55 percent.

As part of an effort to reduce the number of drug overdoses across the country, a couple of years ago the Veterans Health Administration began distributing Naloxone rescue kits to veterans. Naloxone is a drug that, when administered in a timely manner, can reverse opioid and opiate overdose and revive victims.

“We notify all veterans that we feel are at risk of overdose- and all veterans are at higher risk, because of their history, PTSD, they use more substances," said Crystal Cook, who coordinates the Naloxone program at the Clarksburg VA. Veterans who received Naloxone kits from the Clarksburg VA have reversed seven overdoses so far.

But the program has an impact on the general population too, said Cook.

“Nationally two-thirds of the kits have been used on non-veterans.”

Clarksburg’s VA has distributed over 1,500 Naloxone kits and educated over 800 veterans, who can request a kit. Similar Naloxone programs exist at other VA medical systems in West Virginia.

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