Expansion of naloxone access planned in Hamilton County

CINCINNATI — Government and health officials on Thursday promoted a plan to dramatically expand availability of an overdose-reversing drug in a southwest Ohio county in what they hope could prove to be a national model for saving lives.

State Attorney General Mike DeWine joined Hamilton County officials, doctors and others involved in drug treatment to discuss a naloxone access program and pilot study in the county that’s home to Cincinnati. They plan in coming months to more than quadruple distribution of Narcan nasal spray to 30,000 units, using donations from Adapt Pharma Inc., an Irish company whose U.S. base is in Radnor, Pennsylvania. The company would usually provide the two-dose Narcan spray kits at around $75 each.

County Health Commissioner Tim Ingram said a collaborative that includes area hospitals and health care systems is working with the sheriff’s office, religious groups and businesses to decide where to target the distribution.

Officials acknowledged that there has been backlash at times from people critical of tying up first responders and using up supplies on people who repeatedly overdose. They said administering the spray to prevent deaths gives drug users another chance to seek treatment and get their lives back on track.

“By saving lives, it will help buy time,” Dr. Michael Lyons of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

DeWine, a Republican, said he’s met people who were revived multiple times but now have been drug-free for years.

“We have a moral obligation to try to save people,” DeWine said. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a video message that “Narcan is not the ultimate answer,” but it can allow people to get into recovery.

Ohio is one of the nation’s hardest-hit overdose states.

The Ohio Health Department reported recently that a record 4,050 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, up 33 percent over 3,050 deaths in 2015.

The report showed 318 people died in Hamilton County of drug overdose in 2016, down from 335 the previous year. Ingram credited use of naloxone with helping “level off” the overdose death rate last year, even as the region has battled influxes of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

By Dan Sewell

Associated Press