Pilot Program Tests Antidote For Drug Overdoses

Dec 2, 2013

The Vermont Health Department is launching a pilot program to distribute an antidote for opium-based drug overdoses directly to addicts. The drug could potentially save the lives of those who would otherwise have to wait for professional medical care.

Within the next few weeks, a generic form of the drug Narcan will arrive at the Good Neighbor Health Clinic in White River Junction and at the Howard Center in Burlington.

The drug, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, will be distributed directly to individuals suffering from opium-based drug addiction, as well as their friends and family.

Tom Dalton is the head of the Safe Recovery Support and Education Program at the Howard Center. He says Narcan works if an individual takes too much of an opiate- be it heroin or painkillers like Vicodin or Percoset.

“It reverses the overdose so the person starts breathing again and it can save their life,” said Dalton.

"It reverses the overdose so the person starts breathing again, and it can save their life." -Tom Dalton, Howard Center

One of the first signs of an overdose is a lack of breathing, which can lead to unconsciousness. Dalton says that’s why the ability to make the drug available to family and friends is so important.

“If somebody’s overdosing, then it’s not something they’re likely to self-administer,” said Dalton. “So people who are getting it that are addicted to opiates, they’re probably going to be giving it to somebody who they think is going to be around.”

Michael Leyden is the Deputy Director of Emergency Medical Services with the Vermont Department of Health.

He said that while medical professionals have historically given this medication through an IV, this form of the drug should be administered nasally:

“Intra-nasal is a perfectly acceptable route to give this medication,” said Leydon. “It involves attaching a little foam adaptor to the top of a syringe, and then you essentially spray a mist up the patient’s nose.”

Leydon noted that anyone administering the drug should also call 911.

He says the Department of Health will be working with law enforcement to put immunity protections in place for bystanders who may witness an overdose but be afraid to call for help:

“We wanted to remove that barrier if you will,” said Leydon. “Of people being overly concerned that they were going to be somehow arrested or wrapped up in this.”

Leydon says Narcan is a safe drug that’s been used very effectively in places like Chicago, New York and the state of Massachusetts. He says it’s not possible to become addicted to Narcan.

He says that the availability of the drug is good news for the state, as waiting for paramedics to arrive can take time in much of rural Vermont.

After the pilot program is complete, officials will have a better idea of how to roll out the drug state-wide.