Washington will recieve $1 million in federal funding to prevent heroin and opioid overdose deaths.
A subagency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services selected Washington as one of 12 states for a grant to expand access to naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug, and educate people on its use. More than 600 people in Washington have died from opioid overdoses every year for the past five years, and heroin has made up a steadily higher percentage of those deaths.
Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, can stop a fatal overdose by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, effectively “kicking out” heroin or other drugs causing life-threatening symptoms. The effect is nearly instantaneous and sends a person into immediate withdrawal for about 30 to 90 minutes.
The video below, from the New York Department of Public Health, explains how to use naloxone.
Needle exchange programs in Pierce, Skagit, Thurston and Walla Walla counties will receive funding through the Department of Social and Health Services and work with the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, DSHS said in a news release.
Plans for using the funds are still being developed. Tom Fuchs, adult behavioral health treatment manager at DSHS, said goals include getting naloxone into the hands of drug users, family members and first responders.
Sites were selected for having needle exchanges that were well-connected with users in areas that were underserved in some way.
Walla Walla’s needle exchange, run through the nonprofit Blue Mountain Heart-to-Heart, is the only grant recipient in Eastern Washington. The exchange has been distributing naloxone to 116 clients over the last 19 months and has had 42 successful overdose reversals, Executive Director Everett Maroon said.
“It’s been a very steady use,” he said.
Maroon said his organization will work on expanding access to naloxone across Eastern Washington, including in larger communities like Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Yakima.
“We’re pretty well networked in the harm reduction community in the state and we understand the rural scene,” he said.
Spokane first responders currently use naloxone on emergency calls and used the drug about 250 times in 2015. The Spokane Regional Health District has been distributing naloxone kits through its needle exchange for about a year through a University of Washington grant.
Naloxone is increasingly being sold over-the-counter at pharmacies. CVS, which operates pharmacies inside Target stores, announced this week that people can now buy naloxone without a prescription at its locations. Walgreens has also announced plans to offer the drug without a prescription in Washington later this year.
Alaska and New Mexico are the only other Western states to receive federal funding under the grant program. Washington is eligible for $1 million per year for up to five years.
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