Iowa pharmacy hands out free naloxone
The day can hopefully provide a life-saving option for those at risk of opioid overdose, and break down the stigmas
By Grayson Schmidt
STORY COUNTY, Iowa — Pharmacies across the county handed out free kits of naloxone (Narcan)—an opioid overdose reversal spray—to anyone who walked through their doors on Friday, as part of Narcan Access Day.
The initiative was put on by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Board of Pharmacy, and the Iowa Pharmacy Association, and according to Ames NuCara Lead Pharmacist Ashley Loeffelholz, the day can hopefully provide a life-saving option for those at risk of opioid overdose, and break down the stigmas associated with addiction.
"A lot of people when they think of Narcan, they think of the first responders having it; they think of people using illicit substances," Loeffelholz said. "Having a day like this where you can talk to your pharmacist, get more information about it and then potentially look through some of the criteria, and think, 'yes I could benefit from having this.'"
The Ames NuCara was one of the 28 locations across Iowa that handed out about 2,000 kits of Narcan Friday. The spray (which is the most common form) has been available via standing order, meaning a person does not need a prescription from a physician. Loeffelholz said that given the price of Narcan (without insurance around $150) Friday's giveaway aims to make the kits more readily available.
An opioid overdose results in respiratory depression, and naloxone kicks the drugs off those opioid receptors, and reverses that side effect quickly. Though the naloxone is known to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, the medication has no effect if opioids are absent.
Ames Police Cmdr. Geoff Huff, who conducts officer training in administering naloxone, describes opioid receptors as a golf tee, and the opioid as the ball. Huff said that naloxone is able to knock the opioid off the receptor and take its place.
Huff said that the only negative with naloxone (specifically Narcan), is that it will dissipate over time, so people with a lot of opioids in their systems run the possibility of the opioid (golf ball) dropping back onto the receptor (tee).
"A lot of people don't understand that it's not necessarily an antidote," Huff said. "It's an antagonist to the opioid, but you can go back into an overdose even if you're given Narcan, depending on how much you had."
Huff said that all Ames police officers have been trained in administering naloxone, after the department received naloxone kits earlier this year. Initially, Huff said officers responded and administered naloxone in three overdose incidents within the first two weeks of obtaining the kits. Since that time—roughly February to March—Huff said officers haven't had to administer naloxone at all. Whether that is indicative of fewer overdoses, or more people administering kits at home, Huff can't say, but he hopes for the former.
"You have people that could overdose on a legitimate prescription for opioids; it can happen, so it's not a bad idea if you are taking opioids maybe to have this on hand, because of the dangers of overdosing," Huff said. "But that's, at least for police departments who are deploying it, not the usual scenario."
Though Huff said he primarily deals with overdoses using illicit drugs, he acknowledges that individuals having Narcan can benefit those who are currently using opioids to manage pain. For Loeffelholz, the stigma that naloxone is only used for those who overdose on illicit drugs may have affected the number of people who have previously sought out naloxone from a pharmacist. And hopefully, an initiative such as Narcan Access Day has not only educated, but empowered those who use or know users of opioids, she said.
"It's kind of a political hot-button issue, but I think the pharmacy side of the involvement, in addition to helping those folks as well, it's also good for people who are on prescription opioids," Loeffelholz said. "Even people in health care still just think it's for people using illicit substances and so bringing it to their attention that it can be used for prescriptions (is important)."
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