Health care facilities like Community Hospital in Anderson, Ind., are ramping up their efforts to battle opioid abuse, taking such steps as ensuring that local police forces have overdose treatments in hand.
“Hospitals recognize that they have an important role to play in helping to stop the opioid epidemic,” says Evelyn Knolle, senior associate director of policy for the American Hospital Association. “Across the country, hospitals are working to reduce the epidemic in a number of ways, such as implementing standard protocols for prescribing opioids for primary care, the emergency department, and other front-line providers; looking at alternate ways to address pain management; and partnering with schools, law enforcement, departments of health, and others.”
One of the ways Community Hospital is expanding its work is by donating opioid antagonist naloxone to nearby police departments, so that officers can administer the lifesaving drug immediately upon responding to an overdose. Seconds count when first responders arrive on the scene of an opioid overdose. Often comatose and not breathing, an overdosed person won’t always survive the wait for paramedics to arrive, much less a trip to the emergency department.
Community Hospital is helping to equip all 250 patrol officers in Madison County with injectable naloxone kits and to train them in their use.
“The effort needs to extend beyond our four walls,” says Holly Renz, Community Hospital’s community services director, “but law enforcement has a pretty tight budget. Since we are seeing an uptick in heroin usage and overdoses, we want to prevent deaths and minimize the harm these overdoses cause.”
Administering the antidote is about to get easier, with the Food and Drug Administration’s November approval of a nasal spray version of naloxone.
Renz says that while the welfare of patients is the first priority, immediate naloxone administration also makes economic sense, especially if an overdose victim is uninsured or underinsured. “The quicker you can get them the drug the better. You’re potentially saving time and treatment in the emergency department, fewer ICU days and fewer long-term health problems if that patient’s airways are opened immediately,” she says.
Getting naloxone into the hands of people who come upon an opioid overdose case is a growing movement in communities across the country. Thirty-six states have passed bills that provide civil or criminal immunity to licensed health care providers or lay responders for opioid antagonist administration, according to LawAtlas, a policy surveillance portal. In 2015, the Health & Human Services dedicated $1.8 million to help communities fund naloxone first-responder treatment. And drug manufacturer Kaléo on Sept. 29 announced a 50,000-dose donation to local public health departments.