The Highland County Health Department and REACH for Tomorrow are giving away free Narcan kits to members of the public who attend upcoming training events – prompting comments from several local officials regarding public access to the opiate blocker.
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner said that with opiate overdose rates at record highs locally, the public needs to be mobilized to solve the problem.
“We’re really trying to expand who has access to the medication so we can stop overdoses,” he said.
“Highland County, and all of Appalachian Ohio, are losing entire generations to drug abuse. Drug overdoses now outnumber vehicle deaths in Ohio,” he said. “This is a major problem for our community, and people we know are dying because of it.”
Narcan nasal spray is a marketed version of naloxone hydrochloride, a drug that counteracts the effects of opiate overdose usually within two minutes if administered quickly, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Narcan is already widely used by emergency medical responders, Warner said, and 50 other counties in Ohio have similar programs where the drug is actually being issued to the public, although such distribution is new to Highland County.
The kits, assembled by Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) are funded by a grant from Interact Pro Health, and include two four-milligram doses of Narcan, exam gloves and information on drug treatment.
“[The training] is really as simple as it gets,” Warner said. “We’ll go over how to administer the medication, and what the kit has in it. Often, after the overdose, the person who is brought back is more likely to seek out treatment. Each kit will include resources for treatment options. We’re not just saying, ‘Save their life and let them go.’ We’re saying, ‘You were dead… let us get you connected with somebody who can help.’”
Warner also said the training will put a strong emphasis on calling 911 if an overdose is suspected.
Warner said people who receive the kits are recorded, but that information can’t be shared without a legal order.
“We are required by law to maintain a list of who we provide the medication to,” he said, “but… it is considered protected health information, so we’re not allowed to release it… If (law enforcement officials) need it for a court case, they would need to follow the legal process just like getting patient information.”
Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera, Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District Chief Bradley George and Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins had varying thoughts on public access to Narcan and whether it would be a good thing, but they agreed there should be some type of accountability for those who obtain it.
A number of community members have raised concerns about Narcan giveaways being used as part of so-called “Narcan parties,” where someone serving in a role akin to a “designated driver” is on hand with Narcan while others engage in drug use. The sheriff said that while he had heard such stories, he was not aware of those activities in Highland County, and Warner said those tales are “a misconception.”
The sheriff said that establishing a system of responsibility for obtaining Narcan would be a good step.
“I’m all for the public getting Narcan,” Barrera said. “The only thing I worry about is law enforcement not knowing who has it, and not knowing if somebody uses the stuff or not. I hope they can have something set up to see if it’s used and reported, something like Sudafed where they have to sign it out… There ought to be some accountability. Who they’re giving it to, and if they know it’s a known user coming in to get it, that needs to be recorded… and given to the proper people.”
Paint Creek’s George also said accountability is important to make sure authorities are aware of who has Narcan.
“People have to be accountable,” he said.
Collins said some type of registration should be necessary for identifying people who need help fighting addiction – whether they’re a concerned family member or an addict themselves.
“I think it’s good that you can save someone’s life, but on the other hand, there ought to be a way to track it,” Collins said. “Narcan is a very, very short-term fix for a serious problem… How are we going to track it and see who needs help?”
Collins added that she feels there needs to be more cooperation between different county entities to fight the opiate epidemic as a whole.
“I think that tackling the drug problem in Highland County needs to be a collective effort between everyone,” she said. “We need to be working together to do this.”
Warner said he feels if there’s a way to stop deaths from happening, it’s his duty to make sure it’s available no matter what.
“These are real people, with real families, and they are a part of our community,” he said.
Training events will be held at the Rocky Fork Lake area at Greater Life Assembly on North Shore Drive, April 24 at 6 p.m.; Greenfield at Emmanuel Christian Church on Cameron Drive, May 1 at 6 p.m.; and Hillsboro at Carpenter’s House of Prayer on Fairground Road, May 8 at 6 p.m. The events are open to the public.
To register, visit reachfortomorrowohio.org.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.