Naloxone Prescriptions Prove Hard to Come By

Jan 18, 2016

Along with a needle exchange program in Huntington for users who can’t kick their heroin addiction, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department is offering a certification class for a potentially life-saving drug Naloxone. However, some doctors are hesitant to prescribe the opioid overdose blocker.

Credit marshall.edu

  C.K. Babcock, a professor from the Marshall University School of Pharmacy, will offer two sessions of naloxone certification classes every Wednesday. They’re offered in conjunction with the harm reduction needle exchange program at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. It’s a county that recorded over 900 drug overdoses and 70 overdose deaths last year. The hope is to offer those who live and are associated with drug users a chance to be trained in the use of a tool could save lives during an overdose. 

The drug blocks receptors in the brain from attaching to opioids like heroin and Oxycodone. Narcan is the bran name for a nasal spray version of the drug Naloxone. It's also available as an auto-injector. 

Babcock said he’s has trained medical professionals and officials on how to administer the drug. And he’s trained over 100 citizens how to use and administer Naloxone as well.

Certificate of Naloxone Training participants receive that acknowledges they've been through training.
Credit Clark Davis / WV Public Broadcasting

But on some Wednesdays, no one in the health department obtaining needles are there taking the Naloxone classes. Part of the reason, Babcock said, is there aren’t many doctors who will prescribe the medicine. 

"I think a lot of people are afraid of liability, people are afraid they could hurt somebody or that it could be misused, just think they don’t feel as knowledgeable as they should be," Babcock said. "And I don’t feel that many of them feel they understand the rules from the board of medicine yet and I still think they’re trying to get their heads wrapped around those."

The reasons vary said Babcock, from liability, to not wanting to give a prescription to one patient for it to be used on another and not wanting to be known as the only doctor in town who will provide the prescription. 

Dr. Rahul Gupta is the Commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Public Health and the state’s Health Officer. He said doctors just need more education on the medicine and their roll in slowing down the drug overdose epidemic . Gupta said that according to a study in the Journal of Urban Health, it’s not a problem that’s uncommon in the prescribing of naloxone. He said it’s similar to the problems doctors have with prescribing opiates to patients diagnosed with chronic pain.

Credit West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources

"Good, prescribing doctors don’t want to be labeled as the place to go and get naloxone, however the challenge ahead of us as a community across the state is we do have this epidemic in front of us, we are all partners in addressing this epidemic and we cannot escape addressing this epidemic," Gupta said.

Gupta said the state isn’t opposed to looking into different ideas, such as one Babcock suggested about looking into taking the doctor out of the equation. 

"I think we have to take a multi-faceted, multi-system approach toward this as we are doing," Gupta said. "We know that our leaders are looking at this as a multi-faceted approach, so I think any and every effort that we can do at this point to address this epidemic, we must do it."

Dr. Michael Kilkenny is the Director for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. He said it’s those closest to the addicts who would make the biggest difference. 

"It’s going to be the family member who has the greatest opportunity to intervene in what would be a fatal overdose situation with naloxone," Kilkenny said. "We’ve really got to push that out there to get that in their hands so that they can use it. "

Dr. Rahul Gupta said it comes down to the need for education for not just the public, but physicians as well. 

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.