Every 12 minutes someone dies from an opioid overdose, and over 1,000 people are treated in the hospital for an opioid overdose every day.
Naloxone, also known as narcan, temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and is often carried by first responders. Within the last few years, more efforts have been made to expand public access to the potentially life saving medicine.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began widely distributing free naloxone kits after receiving a $7,000,000 grant to address the opioid crisis mid 2017.
In Ardmore, there are two locations where the public can receive a naloxone kit for free. One of those is Southern Oklahoma Treatment Services and the other is Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers.
Lighthouse Clinical Director Tracie DelTorto said the treatment center has had free kits available for around a year now. Individuals can stop by the clinic anytime during normal business hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, without any prior appointment, she said.
The process is relatively simple, DelTorto said. The only requirements are a five to 10 minute training on how to use the medication and a short form for individuals to fill out, which does not ask for any personal information.
“That’s pretty much all that it takes, they can just walk in,” DelTorto said. “We try to ask as little as possible so that people will be more encouraged to get them and not worry that they’re going to have to admit that they’re maybe doing something illegal.”
Each kit contains 8mg of nasal spray, DelTorto said. “It literally just goes in a nostril and is pushed to squirt,” she said.
After administration, individuals are supposed to wait two to three minutes to see if the person who has overdosed has improvement in their breathing and if their color starts coming back, DelTorto said. Most of the time, a second spray has to be administered, she said.
“Emergency personnel may be on the scene by that point and they can take over the care, but I’ve been told that most overdoses do require the use of both sprays to reverse the overdose,” DelTorto said.
Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service paramedic and compliance manager Andrea Earley said naloxone blocks the opioid receptors in a person’s brain and causes them to wake up for a short period of time.
However, the effects are only temporary and the person who has overdosed will still need to seek emergency medical treatment afterwards, Earley said.
“They will often need much more medical intervention, this will just keep them alive for a little bit longer,” DelTorto said.
Earley said all SOAS units are equipped with naloxone kits and use them around 10 times a month. SOAS personnel respond to various drug overdoses all the time and many of them are opioid overdoses, she said.
The Carter County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement are also equipped with kits. Sheriff Chris Bryant said the department has been using naloxone for around six months now and during that time they have been very successful at saving lives.
Earley, however, said she has some reservations when it comes to the public administering naloxone. Many people are not well trained on how to use the medication and need to become more educated, she said.
However, in emergencies, naloxone does save lives, DelTorto said. Naloxone also benefits a demographic some might forget about when it comes to opioid use; the elderly population.
“They may get confused about their medication and take the wrong medicine or take too much of it accidentally,” DelTorto said.
Signs of an opioid overdose include unresponsiveness, slow, shallow or absent breathing, blue or gray lips and fingernails, pale or clammy skin and pupils that do not respond to changes in light.
Individuals can text 55155 to find a naloxone distributor near them. Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers will also have a booth set up where they will be distributing free naloxone kits at the Opioid Epidemic Response Event from August 12 through 18 at the Ardmore Convention Center.
“It’s a free resource to be able to save someone’s life,” DelTorto said. “They’re available and out there, so we just want to try to get on out to as many individuals as possible.”