Health

More than 2,000 naloxone kits distributed in Iowa

State hopes to expand access to opioid-reversal drug

Naloxone kits are shown in April during a free distribution event by Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition. The kits include directions on how to use the drug, which can halt an opioid overdose. The Iowa Department of Public Health provided 2,000 two-pack kits to Iowa pharmacies in June for free distribution to those who may experience an overdose or to their friends and family. The effort aims at halting the increasing number of deaths from opioid overdoses. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Naloxone kits are shown in April during a free distribution event by Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition. The kits include directions on how to use the drug, which can halt an opioid overdose. The Iowa Department of Public Health provided 2,000 two-pack kits to Iowa pharmacies in June for free distribution to those who may experience an overdose or to their friends and family. The effort aims at halting the increasing number of deaths from opioid overdoses. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

BACKGROUND

Thousands of kits containing naloxone — the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose-— were made available for free to Iowans last month in an statewide effort by public health officials to combat deaths occurring from opioid overdoses.

The Iowa Department of Public Health provided more than 2,000 two-pack Narcan kits at more than 350 pharmacies across the state during the first Free Narcan Access Day on June 29.

Narcan, the brand name of naloxone, is a nasal spray that blocks the effects of heroin or other narcotics until emergency responders can provide treatment.

It can be used on individuals experiencing an overdose to buy emergency responders time to treat them.

“The idea behind it is to get naloxone to those individuals that might not otherwise be able to afford it but could benefit from possessing it,” Kevin Gabbert, the opioid initiatives director with the Iowa Department of Public Health, told The Gazette last month.

The event was sponsored by the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy and the Iowa Pharmacy Association.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

As of the second week of July, more than 1,000 kits — which cost up to $150 each — had been claimed, Gabbert said.

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“(We are) very, very pleased with the results we had, with the number of kits dispensed,” he said. “And we had nothing but positive feedback from participating pharmacies and the Iowa Pharmacy Association and the Iowa Board of Pharmacy as well.”

The goal was to give the kits to those who use drugs and to the family members and friends who may be present when an overdose occurs.

Individuals picking up a Narcan kit were not required to identify themselves, so it’s not known how many of the kits ended up with people who fit the target population.

“Hopefully, it’s going to intended recipients that can find benefit in having that,” Gabbert said.

The Department of Public Health is encouraging pharmacies to give any remaining Narcan kits to law enforcement, emergency medical systems and other first responders who may need to assist with an overdose.

Gabbert said public health officials and other state medical organizations are now looking into expanding access to the lifesaving drug.

“Ideally, I would like to see us have naloxone available all the time and not just special events or just once a year,” Gabbert said. “That’s more the issue we’re looking at now. How do we make sure we put naloxone in the hands of those individuals that need it when they need it?”

Specific challenges have presented themselves as officials consider expanding access.

For example, some insurance companies cover the cost of naloxone, but “the problem is that not everyone has insurance,” Gabbert said.

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Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the public health department’s medical director and state epidemiologist, issued a standing order in 2016 that allows state pharmacies to dispense naloxone without a prescription.

The cost, though, can be a barrier.

“To expect an individual to be able to afford that might not be very realistic,” Gabbert said. “How do we make sure those individuals who need it are receiving it in light of that?”

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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