University Hospitals Increases Distribution of Naloxone Amid Continuing Opioid Epidemic

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CLEVELAND, Ohio - Ohio continues to be on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s SUDORS (State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System) database places Ohio as sixth in the nation for opioid-related overdose deaths. This year, the Medical Examiner’s Office projects Cuyahoga County will see a record number of drug overdose deaths. This, as Ohio marks its third annual Ohio Overdose Awareness Day on August 31.

Making the medication naloxone widely available remains a key strategy in fighting the opioid epidemic. Naloxone rapidly reverses an opioid overdose and can quickly (albeit temporarily) restore a person’s normal breathing, which gives time for additional interventions. Naloxone saves lives and gives people a chance to overcome addiction. That is why University Hospitals (UH) is ramping up distribution of naloxone kits.

When UH first started supplying naloxone kits in 2020 as part of Ohio’s Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone), pharmacists distributed just 35 kits. In 2022, the number ballooned to 2,057. This year, UH is on pace to distribute almost 3,000 of the life-saving kits.

Naloxone kits are now available at 14 UH locations, including inpatient units, emergency departments, outpatient clinics, and pharmacies. Preliminary plans are also in the works to place naloxone kits in UH primary care provider offices and other outpatient facilities, as well as distribute them at health fairs and community events.

“Our goal is to make it easier for anyone who wants or needs a kit to get one,” said Sam Stitzel, a pharmacist who leads Project DAWN at UH. “Beyond administering to our own patient population, we want to further affect the overall community and it’s getting easier to do that which is great.”

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy is working to remove barriers and expand how it dispenses naloxone. Now, in locations like emergency departments, outpatient clinics, and health fairs, there are very few requirements for distribution. Caregivers no longer need to collect patient name, date of birth, or address, and can give out naloxone as long as they counsel the patient about how to recognize an overdose, what to do during an overdose, and how to administer and properly store naloxone.

Along with Project DAWN, UH participates in other opioid mitigation efforts, including:

  • Comprehensive Pain Center at UH Parma Medical Center: This center, launched in March of 2021, helps decrease patients’ reliance on opioid medications by enhancing access to multidisciplinary care for chronic pain. The program pairs existing treatments like injections, spinal cord stimulators, and infusion therapy, with integrative health options like chiropractic care, massage therapy and guided meditation through UH Connor Whole Health
  • THRIVE EDThis program provides assistance for patients with substance use disorder who come to the emergency department seeking help, by connecting them with a peer supporter who shares the experience of living with addiction. Peer supporters interface with patients, listen to their personal accounts, and facilitate navigation to various clinical interventions for patients who are ready for treatment.
  • Project ECHORun by NEOMED, this program focuses on training and supporting caregivers who can prescribe buprenorphine (brand names: Suboxone or Subutex) for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

According to the CDC, nearly 110,000 people died in 2022 because of an overdose, the highest number of American deaths recorded in a calendar year. A new poll from KFF shows a majority of adults have felt the impact of the substance use crisis facing the country. Two-thirds said either they or a family member have been addicted to alcohol or drugs or experienced a drug overdose leading to an emergency room visit, hospitalization, or death.

“The statistics are bleak, but I’m hopeful that more community members and patients are ready to be part of the solution,” said Stitzel. “They're on board with the fact that they might be able to do something to save a life, and we’re here to equip them to do that.”

 

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