Surgeon General Declares Naloxone Vital in Preventing Opioid Overdose Deaths

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New public health advisory calls for Americans to keep the overdose antidote on hand

Cordant Health Solutions™, a leading provider of innovative monitoring tools and pharmacy solutions for behavioral health and chronic pain organizations, has made dispensing naloxone a priority since 2016, educating clinicians, patients and family members on the importance of naloxone and working with them to see this medicine as a simple safety measure. Cordant pharmacists dispensed 938 doses of naloxone in 2017, and have already dispensed 165 doses so far this year.

Last week, in its first public health advisory since 2005, the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General urged Americans to carry the overdose-reversal drug naloxone to help prevent further opioid overdose deaths. When administered in time, naloxone can restore an overdose victim’s breathing long enough for trained medical assistance to arrive.

“Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose—that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, in a recent statement in the New York Times. Currently 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical care setting and more than 50 percent occur in the home, Dr. Adams reported. Expanding the awareness and availability of naloxone, in combination with increasing the availability of effective treatment, the Surgeon General says, is key to ending the opioid epidemic.

In most states, people who are or who know someone at risk for opioid overdose can go to a pharmacy or community-based program to get trained on naloxone administration and receive naloxone by “standing order,” which means a patient-specific prescription is not required.

“Proactive education with patients to help them overcome the stigma associated with naloxone is critical to help prevent opioid-related overdose deaths,” said Sue Sommer, CEO and president of Cordant. “Our goal is to work together with clinicians to teach chronic pain and opioid use disorder patients that carrying naloxone to make sure an overdose victim keeps breathing is no different than carrying an EpiPen® to stop a severe allergic reaction. Cordant proactively works with the patient’s insurance to obtain coverage for the naloxone, oftentimes without any out-of-pocket cost. We want to remove any barriers to patients and family members getting this lifesaving medication.”

Cordant currently has pharmacies in Colorado, Indiana and Washington, with plans to open more locations in 2018 and 2019.

The Surgeon General’s advisory also highlights that this national crisis is still growing. The number of overdose deaths from prescription and illicit opioids increased twofold in six years, from 21,089 in 2010 to 42,249 in 2016. According to the Times, opioid overdoses have killed more than 250,000 people in the United States in the last decade alone.

A person’s risk of overdose is affected by multiple factors. Drugs sold on the street frequently contain heroin or fentanyl in unknown and unpredictable amounts. Some of these drugs are pressed into convincing but counterfeit tablets that can precipitate a fatal overdose in an unsuspecting consumer. Another risk factor is taking high doses of prescription opioid pain medications, even when taken as prescribed. High-dose patients are also at risk of drug-alcohol or of drug-drug interactions with anxiety and sleep medications, such as benzodiazepines.

The Surgeon General’s advisory recommends review of the following criteria to help determine whether you or someone you know has an elevated risk of overdose:

  • Taking opioids as prescribed for long-term management of chronic pain, especially taking higher doses of prescription opioids or taking prescription opioids along with alcohol or other sedating medications, such as benzodiazepines
  • Misusing prescription opioids (like oxycodone) or using heroin or illicit synthetic opioids (like fentanyl)
  • Having an opioid use disorder, especially people who have recently completed opioid detoxification or been discharged from treatment that does not include ongoing medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone
  • Having been recently discharged from emergency medical care following an opioid overdose
  • Having been recently released from incarceration with a history of opioid misuse or opioid use disorder
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