You can’t pick up a newspaper in Ohio these days without reading the harrowing story of a rash of drug overdoses. In Cincinnati alone, 174 people overdosed in a six day period. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Ohio had a 20 percent increase in overdoses in 2015 to follow up a 17 percent increase the year before.
Now, the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy has announced that 1,000 Ohio pharmacies in 79 counties now offer naloxone without a prescription. Nine of those pharmacies are in Scioto County. Naloxone (Narcan®) is a safe medication that can reverse an overdose that is caused by prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl. When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and can restore breathing in a matter of minutes.
“A couple of weeks ago I went on a run for a drug overdose,” Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said. “It took several doses to be administered to this lady that day before we finally got her to breathe on her own again. That day, when we got there, this person was turning blue. They were just about to die. She was breathing maybe three times a minute. The average person breathes between 12 and 20 times a minute. Portsmouth Ambulance responded too. They got there and we all worked on it together and by the time we put this person on a cot she was talking to us.
Raison said, in an overdose, your heart keeps beating for a while but you stop breathing. It knocks out your respiratory drive. He said, when his squad arrives at an overdose scene is that they find the person is not breathing adequately.
‘We put a bag valve mask on them and we start breathing for them while we prepare the medication for administration,” Raison said. “The Narcan basically replaces the narcotic on the receptors in the brain and that allows your respiratory drive to be restored, so they start breathing on their own again.”
The Daily Times did a spot check of some of the pharmacies in Scioto County that dispense Narcan to find out if ordinary citizens are getting the drug, or if they have basically left it to law enforcement.
“Ultimately it would be wise to have somebody in the family have access to the Naloxone, because they would be the one administering it,” Gary Holschuh, a pharmacist at Compass Community Health Centers Pharmacy in Portsmouth said. “With that in mind, most of the people that we see are in treatment. There are educational programs available for the lay persons, family members and caregivers that educate them as well.”
Holschuh said Compass’ goal would be to have everyone have access to Narcan (Naloxone). “That’s the direction we would like for it to go,” Holschuh said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sent a letter to members of law enforcement Monday reminding them that rebates are available for law enforcement agencies that carry naloxone.
“I am aware (of the rebate). We are not currently carrying it,” Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware said. “Our fire department has it on their trucks.”
“We’re using it quite a bit. That’s for sure,” Raison said. “We carry it in the command cars and on all the engines. Everyone’s trained in administration of it. Unfortunately, we use it on a regular basis which is just indicative of the addiction problem we have in the community.”
Naloxone counters the effects of the high brought on by drugs, but the war has escalated with the introduction of Fentanyl and Carfentanil to the heroin and opiods. Carfentanyl is a drug used to knock out elephants.
“Increasing the availability of naloxone is essential in preventing fatal drug overdoses impacting our state,” State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Steven W. Schierholt said. “I am proud that Ohio pharmacies have stepped up to offer this medication in their communities.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.