This month Gifford’s Kingwood Health Center became the first Orange County distribution site for free naloxone, also known by brand name Narcan, the medication that, when taken properly, saves lives by rapidly reversing opioid overdoses.
Opioids, which include heroin as well as pain relievers like oxycodone and morphine, are highly addictive drugs that can cause death by overdose. Last year, “there were 101 accidental and undetermined opioid-related fatalities among Vermont residents,” reported the Vermont Department of Health, “up from 96 in 2016 and 74 in 2015.”
State-provided naloxone rescue kits are now available during office hours at Kingwood, where Gifford’s Addiction Medicine team recently completed training with state officials as part of Vermont’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Reversal Project. Naloxone distributed as part of the project “has led to a large amount of overdose reversals and saved hundreds of lives” in Vermont, according to the health department. “In 2017, among those who reported that naloxone was used in a perceived overdose setting, 95 percent said it reversed the overdose.”
Gifford’s participation in the project provides a critical resource for Randolph-area community members.
“People can’t get into recovery if they are dead,” said Dr. Christopher Lukonis, who leads the Addiction Medicine team at Kingwood, of the necessity of having a local naloxone distribution site. “A lot of people are overdosing because they can’t get to treatment properly. This gives them a second chance.”
Making naloxone available at Kingwood also connects opioid users with Gifford’s treatment team.
“They can see we offer a welcoming, professional environment where they can think about getting treatment,” said Lukonis.
“I can’t think of any drawbacks,” he said of providing free naloxone at the health center. “The medication has no street value, and it does not cause impairment.”
“The state has gone so far as to put a Good Samaritan law into place,” he added, referring to the Vermont law, passed in 2013, which shields those who seek help for someone who is overdosing from criminal charges related to drug possession, and from any liability of Narcan side effects if used in good faith to reverse an overdose.
How It Works
The process to receive naloxone at Kingwood is efficient, taking only about three minutes.
The rescue kits are “intended for lay people,” Lukonis said, “for both users and loved ones of someone who has overdosed. Users or their loved ones can come in, complete an anonymous questionnaire, and receive simple instructions.”
The medication is taken nasally and works nearly immediately.
“Narcan works by blocking opioid receptors and pushing opioids off receptors,” explained Lukonis. “It reverses things like respiratory arrest,” to restore normal breathing.
Naloxone should be administered as quickly as possible after an overdose, but calling 911 is a critical first step.
“It is really important to tell people who are going to use the medication to first call 911,” said Lukonis. “Narcan is a stopgap measure. The drugs out there are so strong. People often need medical treatment in addition to one or two doses of Narcan, and sometimes even more Narcan.”
The patient-centered Addiction Medicine team at Kingwood Health Center is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. The center is located a half-mile off Interstate 89 on Route 66 in Randolph. Signage directs visitors to Addiction Medicine in the upper-level parking lot. For more information about Addiction Medicine at Gifford, visit giffordhealthcare.org/service/addiction-medicine or call 802-728-7744.
# # #