Opioid-Related Overdose: How Naloxone Can Save Lives in Our Community
As a future nurse practitioner, it is important to bring awareness to high risk disorders within the community. The opioid crisis continues to be a significant public health issue in the state of Massachusetts, with Middlesex County being one of the highest areas affected by opioid-related overdose and death. The amount of opioid-related deaths has continued to climb over the last decade. In 2015, Middlesex County’s opioid-related deaths increased to 342 compared to 116 in 2005. These incidents have surged over recent years with opioid prescription dispensing and increased recreational drug use. Although there have been measures taken to improve the safety of opioid dispensing, overdose and death persist.
Narcan (naloxone) is an opioid blocker that works by temporarily reversing the effects of excess opioid circulating in the body. Health care providers have direct access to naloxone and utilize it when there is known or suspected opioid overdose. There is a chance that when individuals overdose within the community that first responders may arrive to the scene with naloxone too late. This poses a problem as individuals utilizing opioids have not always had access to naloxone. Naloxone has been proven to be safe and effective in treating opioid-related overdose when administered by individuals within the community. Many individuals have access to naloxone within their community, but are unaware of its availability in preventing unintended opioid-related deaths. It is imperative to ensure precautions are taken to prevent overdose considering the increasing population utilizing prescribed and recreational opioids.
The state of Massachusetts allows the use of naloxone with a prescription from a provider or a standing order through the pharmacy; both of which must be approved by a health care prescriber. Not all pharmacies in Middlesex County provide this medication through a standing order, making it important to discuss its use and availability with a provider. Its availability is not widely discussed and many individuals remain unaware of this opportunity. Education regarding the risks and benefits of its use should be discussed with a health care provider who can appropriately advise its use. This rescue medication can prevent accidental overdose with proper education and accurate treatment plans. Discussing naloxone use with a healthcare professional increases the safety of high risk individuals and decreases the risk for unintended death related to opioid use.
The Good Samaritan Law in the state of Massachusetts protects an individual who obtains naloxone and administers it to an individual displaying signs of an opioid overdose. This protection allows an individual the right to possess and utilize naloxone without legal consequences. Individuals that may be appropriate for naloxone use include, but are not limited to, those with a history of heroin use, previous overdose, high-dose or long-term opioid prescriptions, and those who use opioids with other high risk drugs. Although naloxone is not intended to replace opioid treatment, it can prevent the death of individuals in this community. Discussing this with a health care provider is the first step in determining individualized risks of opioid overdose along with providing accurate information on its use and availability. Increasing awareness and use of naloxone can improve emergency response times and significantly decrease the amount of opioid-related deaths within our community.
If you or someone you know is using prescribed or recreational opioids, please contact your healthcare provider for education regarding the personal use of naloxone to prevent accidental overdose and death.
Katelyn Walker, RN, BSN
Family Nurse Practitioner Student
University of Massachusetts Lowell