Naloxone reverses effects of opioid overdose, saves lives
Members of the Monongalia County Quick Response Team have had a direct impact in providing the community with life-saving training and treatment in the form of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
“It’s a great resource to keep people alive, until they’re ready to do something for themselves and make that change,” said Russell Wyatt of WV Sober Living, a peer recovery coach and a member of the Monongalia County QRT.
Wyatt recalled a training session at the Morgantown Public Library that directly led to a life being saved.
“We received a phone call the next day stating how an employee was able to save somebody.”
Wyatt himself has also had personal experience in helping overdose victims. He was able to save an individual’s life in September by having naloxone on hand and the proper training to administer it.
“Naloxone is really important to get to people in danger of opioid overdose,” Wyatt said. “It gives them a second chance, and time for first responders to get to them.”
Also known by its brand name, Narcan, naloxone has been receiving wider distribution in Monongalia County, which, like many parts of West Virginia, has been experiencing an epidemic in substance misuse, including opioids.
The Monongalia County QRT is a collaboration among first responders, public health, peer recovery coaches and other health care and private partners dedicated to providing immediate and longer-term help to those struggling with substance abuse. Funded by grants awarded to Monongalia County Health Department, the QRT meets weekly to discuss strategies for getting treatment and services to individuals who need it.
Reports of individuals who overdose are sent to a Dropbox account that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the PRCs then attempt to reach them within 24-72 hours to connect them to treatment and services.
“Giving out naloxone can often wedge open the door a little and start the conversation between an individual with substance use disorder and a peer recovery coach or medical provider,” said Joe Klass, MCHD threat preparedness specialist.
Klass heads up MCHD’s training sessions on how to administer naloxone, which is usually given to a patient in the form of a nasal spray. Once administered, naloxone can provide bystanders and first responders the time to transport individuals to emergency care.
Along with members of the Monongalia County QRT and WV Sober Living, Klass has trained more than 500 people to administer naloxone over the past year and a half, he said.
Training sessions focus on recognizing an overdose, contacting emergency services and administering the drug. Most members of the QRT have received naloxone training.
“Peer recovery coaches are often the boots on the ground as far as providing resources and recovery services to those with substance misuse issues, and they can strategically distribute naloxone to individuals who need it,” Klass said.
Naloxone, Klass said, will get an individual to begin breathing again following an opioid overdose.
“Naloxone is a very safe drug, so we teach that if someone is unconscious, they do not appear to be breathing or are not breathing well, and you think for whatever reason it was caused by an opioid, you should go ahead and give naloxone and call 911,” Klass said. “If it turns out the person was having another type of medical emergency, the naloxone won’t hurt them.”
MCHD training sessions take 30-45 minutes, including some hands-on practice. Due to COVID-19, the health department is currently offering more virtual training sessions, but small socially distanced classes are still available.
All licensed EMS agencies in West Virginia carry naloxone in their ambulances and response vehicles.
John Hitchens, chief of EMS operations at Star City Fire & EMS as well as a Monongalia County QRT member, said he has been administering naloxone to patients for 18 years, the same amount of time he has been a paramedic in West Virginia.
“When I began my career, only paramedics would administer naloxone,” Hitchens said. “With the advent, and ultimate inclusion, of the atomizer to West Virginia State Protocols, EMTs could administer this lifesaving drug.”
An atomizer is a component on the naloxone device that turns the liquid into an aerosol so can be absorbed in the nose. Prior to this, naloxone was administered via an injection, which required more technical skill.
Hitchens said according to Star City Fire & EMS data, naloxone use rose by 29% since 2019.
He attributed that to the increase in opioid-related emergencies in the county as well as the fact that the Monongalia County QRT has been distributing naloxone and providing training.
The nasal spray is also available over the counter or through a prescription at most pharmacies.
In Monongalia County, anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy using one of two standing orders. One was written by Smith, and the other by Dr. Ayne Amjad, commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health and West Virginia State Health officer.
Both standing orders can be downloaded from MCHD’s website at monchd.org/mon-co-qrt.html.
However, that’s not what Michael LeMasters, pharmacist at Pierpont Landing Pharmacy in Morgantown, is accustomed to seeing. LeMasters, a member of the Monongalia County QRT, provides medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which helps enrolled patients in the process of recovery from opioid use disorder.
“I don’t see a large volume of patients asking for it,” LeMasters said. “For the majority of the patients, we end up getting it in their hands.”
Then, he said, nine out of 10 MAT patients do get naloxone, and LeMasters can download Smith’s order to fill the prescription. Outside of Monongalia County, Amjad’s order can be used.
At Pierpont Landing Pharmacy, naloxone, in the form of Narcan, is readily available. Several factors, including type of insurance, insurance formularies or private pay, can impact the final cost of Narcan.
To schedule an appointment for naloxone training, email Klass at Joseph.L.Klass@wv.gov.