A drug designed to save the lives of opiate users who overdose will soon be available to a broader population of users and the general public in Rutland.
Naloxone, an opioid antagonist medication that revives people who overdose on drugs such as heroin or prescription painkillers, has been available to addicts since November at needle exchange sites in Burlington and White River Junction.
But in a pilot program designed to increase the drug’s availability, state Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said the West Ridge Center for Addiction Recovery in Rutland would be the first of the state’s seven treatment hubs to dispense the lifesaving drug to a broader number of addicts, their family members and anyone else who may need Naloxone.
“Realistically, we’re looking at getting it out to the at-risk population or their caretakers,” Chen said. “Everyone having it in their medicine cabinet would be overkill.”
The Naloxone kits dispensed to smaller numbers of addicts in Burlington and White River Junction have already proven their effectiveness by being held responsible for “waking up” at least 10 people who overdosed using opiate drugs.
Those numbers don’t count the overdoses counteracted through the use of the drug by emergency medical technicians and Vermont State Police troopers who have been issued the drug.
State police went through training on how to administer doses of Naloxone before they were issued kits, but Chen said the training is minimal.
A brochure published on the Vermont Department of Health’s website lays out a simple procedure:
First dial 911, and make sure the victim’s airways are clear. Then attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and finally administer a dose of Naloxone.
The drug comes in a syringe but is administered nasally. Users are recommended to use half a syringe in each nostril.
Additional doses should be administered every five minutes with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation attempted in between does until the person is breathing.
“The only risk to using it is if a person doesn’t realize it’s not working,” Chen said. “If they use it on any other kind of overdose (other than opiate drugs) it’s not going to work.”
Asked why Rutland was chosen to be the first treatment hub in the state to dispense Naloxone, Chen said the decision was made on the basis of avoiding duplication and of need.
The state’s hubs are located in Rutland, Brattleboro, White River Junction, Berlin, St. Johnsbury, Newport and Burlington.
Addicts in Burlington and White River Junction already have access to the drug. Of the other regions, Rutland has the higher level of opiate users and therefore the greater risk, the commissioner said.
“Geographically, we wanted to find a place where there’s a need,” he said.
How many more Naloxone kits will be dispensed in Rutland than have already been given out at the needle exchange programs is unclear.
In White River Junction, the Health Department said, 50 kits have been given to addicts since November. The numbers dispensed by the Howard Center in Burlington weren’t immediately available Friday.
Jesse Farnsworth, director of the West Ridge Center in Rutland, said plans for dispensing Naloxone in Rutland are still a work in progress and she did not provide estimates.
However, a spokeswoman at Rutland Regional Medical Center, which runs the West Ridge Center, said the treatment center should begin dispensing Naloxone next month.
For the foreseeable future, Naloxone will be handed out free to those who need it. That means the financial burden for the kits — which cost about $15 each — will fall to the state, which in the short term is using federal grant funding to pay the expense.
In the future, Chen said the state plans to set up a system in which doctors would right prescriptions for Naloxone and the costs would be covered by individuals’ health insurance.
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