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News / Health

Thousands of free opioid overdose reversal kits headed to Washington

By Ellen Dennis, , The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash. (TNS),
Published: May 17, 2024, 11:33am

Washington residents can now order free life-saving opioid overdose reversal kits through the mail, the state attorney general’s office announced this week.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose from drugs such as fentanyl, heroin and prescription narcotics like oxycodone. When administered fast enough, naloxone blocks the sedative effects of an opioid overdose and restores a person to normal breathing within a couple of minutes.

The new program run by the nonprofit the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance will allow Washingtonians to order a free naloxone kit from the state Department of Health with zero shipping costs. The free kit program was created with special attention to make naloxone available to remote areas and for people who might have privacy concerns about how to access naloxone in their community.

Over the next two years, the pharmaceutical giant Teva will send more than 54,000 naloxone kits to Washington free of charge as part of a $90.7 million lawsuit resolution with the state Attorney General’s Office for the company’s part in fueling the opioid epidemic.

“These kits will save lives,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a news release. “Our lawsuits against opioids manufacturers are providing resources to combat the fentanyl and opioid crisis to every part of the state.”

The state Department of Health urges people to call 911 and immediately administer naloxone if they suspect somebody has overdosed, even if it’s unclear what kind of drugs a person took. Naloxone will only work on opioids, but the medication will cause no harm if it’s administered to somebody who took another kind of drug.

To carry or administer naloxone, a person does not need formal training. The state Department of Health created a video with detailed instructions about how to administer naloxone on its website.

Roughly two out of three overdose deaths in Washington today are linked to opioids. Opioids can sometimes cause people to appear drowsy, so it may be difficult to tell if somebody is experiencing an overdose. The state Department of Health strongly encourages people to administer naloxone if they see a friend or stranger exhibit any signs of an overdose. Along with drowsiness, the state agency has outlined the following overdose symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness or inability to talk
  • Bluing lips on a lighter-skinned person or ashy-colored lips on a darker-skinned person
  • Blue or purple fingernails
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Choking or snore-like gurgling sounds
  • Vomiting
  • Limp body
  • Clammy or pale face
  • No breathing or a slow, erratic or nonexistent pulse
  • Not responsive to shaking or yelling

Opioid overdose rates in Washington have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2022, more than 2,000 people died of opioid-involved overdoses in Washington, according to state Department of Health data. That’s more than twice the number who died of the same cause in 2019. Indigenous communities face death rates four times higher than the statewide average.

Of the opioid-related deaths in 2022, 1,803 involved fentanyl. Fentanyl is cheap, potent and incredibly addictive. One pill is enough to cause an overdose and can cost less than $1 — sometimes less than 50 cents, undercover law enforcement has reported.

Between 2022 and 2023, overall drug overdose deaths in Washington increased by roughly 27%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Spokane, the number of daily overdose calls increased by 30% between 2023 and 2024, according to a resolution passed by the City Council. Today, an average of more than six overdoses is called in to the Spokane Police Department daily. In 2023, law enforcement in Spokane seized nearly 200,000 illicit fentanyl pills from the public along with 81 grams of powder (enough to produce another 50,000 pills).

Doctors and elected officials have urged policymakers in the state to make naloxone more abundant and available to the public. A state law passed earlier this year will require all public, charter and some tribal schools in Washington to carry naloxone.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse disorder or mental health crisis, the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Helpline at (800) 662-4357 is available free of charge to provide information and assistance.

Ellen Dennis’ work is funded in part by members of the Spokane community via the Community Journalism and Civic Engagement Fund. T

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