As the opioid epidemic worsens, D.C. has expanded its efforts to provide Naloxone to clinics, yet some fear that it's still not enough.

D.C. Department of Health officials announced Friday, July 14, that they would be expanding their distribution of Naloxone, the drug that can immediately reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The expansion means the city will now provide two community health organizations an additional 2,500 Naloxone kits, which are predicted to last about 10 months.

A Multi-Year Process of Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Local governments across the entire country are under pressure to respond to and address the worsening opioid epidemic. Between 2014 and 2016, there were 395 deaths caused by opioid overdoses. The Chief Medical Examiner of Washington, D.C.'s official report on opioid-related overdoses reveals the unsettling trend, which is mirrored across most of the country. [caption id="attachment_2982" align="aligncenter" width="414"] A look at how naloxone replaces opioids in the brain's receptors and immediately reverses the effects of an overdose[/caption] In 2015, a number of D.C. health organizations, including HIPS, Bread for the City, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the National Safety Council, formed a coalition to lobby for the Substance Abuse and Opioid Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2016. In April of that same year, the D.C. Department of Health launched a pilot program for the distribution of Naloxone. This program provided 1,000 Naloxone kits to HIPS and Family and Medical Counseling Services, but the kits ran out in a few short months, leading some to ask why D.C. organizations didn't have enough of the drug when there's clearly a need for it; yet, according to Department of Health officials, these 1,000 kits alone saved 290 people from overdose deaths.
The Substance Abuse and Opioid Overdose Prevention Amendment Act passed in February 2017, allowing doctors and pharmacists to prescribe Naloxone to patients as well as to third parties. Now, the Department of Health will continue its expansion of its fight against opioid overdoses with the distribution of 2,500 Naloxone kits.

Addressing the Shortage of Naloxone and Providing Training

HIPS, formerly known as Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, is one of the organizations that is receiving the drug from the city. Cyndee Clay, the executive director of HIPS, said, “Anything the city can do to increase the availability of Naloxone is amazing, because we’ve been experiencing shortages since the program started,” in reference to the shortage in 2016. Clay pointed out that HIPS had received a donation of the drug from its manufacturer, but that it was not enough to fill the demand. HIPS will receive a portion of the 2,500 kits, which will be distributed to individuals who request them, with priority given to drug-users. Within each kit are two doses of Naloxone, but it's feared that these will also fall short of the demand. HIPS, located on H Street NE, also provides a free, 15-minute training on how to use the nasal spray Narcan, the brand name of Naloxone.

Organizers Fear It's Still Not Enough.

However, the D.C. program only distributes kits to organizations with active needle exchange programs, meaning that Naloxone is still not accessible to the broader public, even though those most likely to save someone of an overdose are friends and family of a user. The D.C. program is also falling behind Maryland and Virginia programs, in which Naloxone is available over the counter without any prescription or doctor's recommendation. Hopefully, after D.C., Maryland, and Virginia officials met in May, they will begin discussing and sharing policy solutions that may result in more efficient programs to help combat the fatal opioid epidemic. Do you think D.C. should continue its expansion of the Naloxone programs? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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