The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) is a nonprofit organization that is committed to reducing drug overdose deaths. With North Carolina being home to four of the top 25 cities for opioid abuse, it’s an important organization to have in the state. They help addicts, but it's a little different than our drug treatment in Raleigh NC.
Castlight Health, a healthcare information company based in San Francisco, released a study called “The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce” in April of last year that named Hickory, Jacksonville, and Fayetteville as three of the 25 cities, with Wilmington ranked number one on the list.
The study also says that one out of every three opioid prescriptions are being abused. With an out of control drug epidemic there also comes overdoses and death, so the NCHRC is working towards giving more education to the public and freedom to the police force and first-responders regarding naloxone. This drug helped reverse its 5,000th overdose on November 23, 2016.
What is naloxone?
Naloxone (also known by the brand of Narcan or Evzio) is a drug that can be administered to stop an opioid overdose. Opioids are a class of drugs that include both legal and illegal drugs. Painkillers like Oxycodone and Vicodin fall into this class of drugs as well as illicit drugs like heroin. The human body naturally has opioid receptors and opioids work by attaching themselves to these receptors. This creates a sense of euphoria while numbing pains but also slowing breathing and heart rate and this is an opioid overdose. Naloxone works to bust the opioids off the receptors to bring the person back to normal breathing and a normal heart rate. It can be directly injected into a muscle or squirted into someone’s nose.
How effective is naloxone?
Naloxone can start working to reverse an overdose in just minutes and is extremely effective. Depending on the amount and potency of the drug taken, several doses of naloxone may need to be administered. Luckily, naloxone is not addictive and has very few side effects. Naloxone will not work to prevent an overdose and is only effective if opioids are present in the system at the time of administration. This means a person cannot take naloxone before doing opioids as a preventative measure. The only way to prevent an overdose is by not using drugs. Naloxone will not work for any other type of drug either. While naloxone is extremely effective, it’s important to remember its effects can wear off in 20-90 minutes so it is very important to seek medical attention as soon as it has been administered.
“Really, everyone should carry it,” said Tessie Casillo of the NCHRC. “If you have an opioid in your house, you should have naloxone as well.”
The organization is having a hard time keeping naloxone in stock. According to Castillo there is a very high demand.
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How is naloxone available?
The study brought up many concerns about this growing drug epidemic so the NCHRC decided to take action. Overdose prevention kits have been distributed to over 35,800 people that are at risk for drug overdose or live with loved ones at risk since August 1, 2013.
This overdose prevention kit contains the drug naloxone along with prevention training and education about the 911 Good Samaritan Law.
Prevention training explains how to administer the drug naloxone correctly in order to achieve overdose reversal results.
The 911 Good Samaritan Law (of North Carolina) is a law that encourages people to seek medical help for an overdose by offering immunity when it comes to drug or alcohol charges.
Many people fear they will be arrested or violate the terms of their probation if they call for help for someone who is overdosing. This law is in place to offer some reassurance in hopes that more overdoses will be called in, resulting in fewer deaths. This law also grants community-based organizations to distribute naloxone.
The NCHRC offers services to 91 out of the 100 counties in North Carolina. Both CVS and Walgreens drugstores are working to make naloxone available without a prescription in 20 states across the country.
In addition, all across the state police officers are training on overdoses and equipping officers with naloxone.
Over 130 departments have reversed 256 overdoses using this training and naloxone. Those numbers are separate from the previously mentioned 5,000 NCHRC reversals. Since law enforcement officers respond to a wide variety of situations and they never really know what’s going on until they get there, it is helpful that the officers are coming equipped for anything.
Chief Bill Hollingsed of the Waynesville police department was one of the first police departments in North Carolina to adopt the program.
“The use of naloxone has given law enforcement and first responders another tool or resource to help save lives” Hollingsed said. “Behind each number or statistic is a life that was saved due to the use of naloxone. I am very excited to learn of the 5,000th naloxone save.”
What’s next for naloxone?
The NCHRC is hoping that the North Carolina General Assembly will consider helping fund the naloxone program due to the continuing opioid epidemic. The executive director of the NCHRC, Robert Childs, says that North Carolina has one of the largest naloxone distribution programs in the country on one of the smallest budgets.
“I can’t say enough about how the commitment of people impacted by drug overdose has contributed to the success of this life-saving program, but we are still struggling to fund it due to overwhelming demand,” he said.
The NCHRC will be asking for $120,000 during the next legislative session to continue to fund the distribution program.
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