Hamilton County is preparing a first-in-the-nation Narcan project with a goal of saving lives by infusing the community with the overdose antidote.
The project will bring 400 percent more doses of Narcan to a broader section of the community. New groups that will get the doses include jails, syringe exchange programs, emergency departments and faith-based groups.
The distribution of Narcan is underway, but new agencies will begin to receive it in about two months. It will take a year or two to get out all the supply, officials said.
“Opioid use disorder has become an enormous problem,” said Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Tim Ingram. “Drug overdoses are robbing us of our future.
“We want to save lives.”
Ingram announced the initiative Thursday with others at the health department. Hamilton County and Cincinnati public health agencies, private addiction providers, hospitals and county governments are among those that have joined for the effort.
The project will cost about $550,000, Ingram said. Collaborative members, including hospitals in Hamilton County, BrightView Health, private foundations and Interact for Health, and Hamilton County commissioners contributed to that amount. . The commissioners contributed $25,000 toward an individual who will lead distribution of the medication.
Dr. Shawn Ryan, a certified addiction expert, initiated the idea. Ryan has expanded access to on-demand medication assisted treatment with his practice at BrightView Health clinics and is president of the Ohio American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Ryan said he’s alarmed by the rise in opioid overdoses, particularly by fentanyl, a synthetic that is far more potent than heroin and is rampant in the region.
Hamilton County sees an average of one opioid overdose death per day, but it can go higher, Ingram said. Ohio has about 11 overdoses deaths each day. Nationwide, the deaths number about 91 per day.
Fentanyl and related potent opioids were involved in more than half of 4,050 drug overdose deaths in Ohio last year, according to a recently released report by the Ohio Department of Health.
“It scares me,” Ryan said. “We can’t wait any longer.”
Adapt Pharma is providing the bulk of the Narcan, 25,000 doses, adding to the current supply in the county, said company spokesman Thom Duddy.
The company makes Narcan in a concentrated, four-milligram dose that has proven effective to those overdosing on fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. Narcan Nasal Spray is easy to use, which is a key reason why Adapt Pharma was asked to join the Hamilton County effort.
The county’s Narcan supply will go from about 7,000 doses to more than 30,000. It will be distributed to more locations within reach of people who are at high risk, or have a loved one at high risk, of overdosing.
Currently, Hamilton County naloxone is distributed to first responders, treatment agencies, law enforcement and community groups that provide it to the public.
Dr. Michael Lyons, of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, will head research for the project, tracking the distribution of Narcan and overdoses and deaths in the county.
If the influx of Narcan prevents more deaths, Ingram said, the project could become a model for communities nationwide in the fight against opioid addiction.
Public health officials stressed that addiction treatment, especially with medication, must follow overdoses and be available to those with opioid addiction.
“As has been scientifically proved, medically assisted treatment is the gold standard treatment,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, representing the county and its heroin task force.
Ingram noted that access to treatment in Hamilton County has increased, but added “we need more.”
What is naloxone?
Known also by its brand name, Narcan, naloxone is an antidote to opiate-related overdose. The non-narcotic can restore breathing in people who are overdosing from heroin or other opioids, saving lives.
Hamilton County first responders saved lives with naloxone provided by the health department almost 6,000 times from June 2016 to July 2017, Health Commissioner Tim Ingram said. They administered nearly 9,000 doses of the overdose reversal medication.
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Overdose deaths in Greater Cincinnati:
Warren County saw the largest percent increase in overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016. Last year, 58 people died of drug overdoses, up from 42 in 2015. The county’s annual overdose death rate since 2011 trails the state average.
Overdose deaths in Butler County increased from 195 in 2015 to 211 in 2016. In the last five years, the county has seen 37.9 overdose deaths annually per 100,000 residents, the second-highest in the state.
In Clermont County, the overdose death rate was 37.5 per 100,000 residents, fourth-highest in the state. Ninety-six people died of an overdose last year, down from 105 in 2015.
In Hamilton County, 318 residents died of an unintentional drug overdose in 2016, down from 335 in 2015. Since 2011, the rate of local deaths was 29.4 per 100,000 residents, 13th highest in the state.