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Anesthesiologists Advocate Naloxone (NARCAN) for All

Signs of opioid overdose

For the past month or so, Iowans have been able to get free naloxone – a short-acting reversal drug for opioid overdose – through a partnership between University of Iowa Health Care and the Iowa Department of Public Health. And anesthesiologists at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics’ Pain Management Clinic think everyone should take advantage of the program.

“Iowa doesn’t have as much of a problem with opioid overdoses as some other states, but people are still vulnerable here,” says Amy Pearson, MD, an anesthesiologist who specializes in chronic pain medicine. “And in cases where emergency help is several minutes away, this drug can save a life.”

Naloxone (NARCAN®) can be administered as an injection or as a nasal spray. It temporarily blocks the effects of an opioid overdose and can quickly restore normal breathing to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped.

“It’s an extremely safe intervention, because as soon as you administer the first dose, you’re calling 9-1-1,” says Tejinder Swaran Singh, MBBS, another pain management specialist at the clinic. “With the nasal spray, you can administer another dose every 2-3 minutes until the person wakes up or emergency help arrives.”

The statewide Tele-Naloxone Project distributes the nasal spray version of naloxone. Any Iowa resident who wants the drug signs up online and participates in a brief consultation with a UI Hospitals & Clinics pharmacist via a mobile phone platform. Then a free kit is mailed to the resident, anywhere in the state.

People can participate in the program regardless of whether they’ve received a supply of naloxone in the past.

Although many people may associate the term “overdose” with illicit drugs like heroin, opioid overdoses also can happen when a patient:

  • Misunderstands the directions for use of prescription opioids;
  • Accidentally takes an extra dose;
  • Mixes opioids with other medications, alcohol, or over-the-counter drugs;
  • Deliberately misuses a prescription opioid; or
  • Takes opioids prescribed for someone else.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of overdose deaths are attributed to opioids, including commonly prescribed opioids for pain management, and more than half of opioid overdoses happen in private homes.

These two factors make the free naloxone program even more important, Pearson says.

“Naloxone can be the difference between life and death for someone,” she says. “It’s easy to use and now it’s free, so there’s really no reason every Iowan shouldn’t have the means to save a life.”

Friday, January 24, 2020