In Douglas County, approximately 20 to 25 people overdose every month, sometimes leading to death, according to Kim Gandy, the overdose prevention coordinator at Douglas Public Health Network. One way to decrease the number of fatal overdoses is through the use of Naloxone.
Naloxone is a medication that comes as both a nasal spray or injection. It is used to reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin and fentanyl, by blocking the effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After administered, Naloxone can restore breathing within two to three minutes. More than one dose may be required, the CDC advises.
“Naloxone really can mean life or death for somebody,” Gandy said, during a local public health conversation through Douglas Public Health Network in April. “What I recommend is if you yourself, or somebody you know, is at an increased risk of an opioid overdose, you should be carrying Naloxone.”
The Oregon Good Samaritan Law protects people from being arrested or prosecuted from any drug-related charges if they contact emergency medical services or law enforcement for assistance if another person needs medical attention due to a drug-related overdose.
In Douglas County, Naloxone is available at most pharmacies and does not require a prescription, though normal copays do apply, according to the Public Information Officer at Douglas Public Health Network, Vanessa Becker.
HIV Alliance is working to provide Naloxone for free, along with training on how to administer it.
“We will provide Naloxone to pretty much anybody,” Dane Zahner, prevention and harm reduction manager at HIV Alliance said. He added that they focus on communities most at risk, meaning people who are actively using opioids.
According to Zahner, they have seen an increase in drug use at HIV Alliance. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of overdoses nationwide rose by 40%, Gandy confirmed.
This is partially a result of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to treat chronic pain. Fentanyl is significantly more potent than other opioids and illicit fentanyl is increasingly mixed into other drugs to increase the potency of them or turned into counterfeit fentanyl pills, mimicking prescription opioids from a pharmacy, according to Gandy.
“The scary part about all of this is that there is no official oversight, there is no quality control that is happening out there with the amount of fentanyl that is being put into these products,” Gandy said during the public health conversation in April. “All it takes is two milligrams of fentanyl to be a lethal dose.”
In the fall, Douglas County’s Drug, Alcohol and RX Taskforce is launching a fentanyl and overdose awareness campaign in collaboration with many agencies around the county working to address stigma and raise awareness around drug use and overdose, according to Becker.
HIV Alliance is one organization that works to provide education and services to help keep people safe. They currently can provide fentanyl testing strips with Naloxone, though the testing strips are difficult to get according to Zahner.
“We work with two different populations with lots of stigma: LGBTQ+ and people using substances. Our goal is to reduce stigma,” Zahner said.
According to the CDC, around 1 in 4 people reported some form of illicit drug use as of 2019.
“Addiction is a disease,” Gandy said. “It is not a character flaw, it’s not just with gender, race, ethnicity, age — It can happen to literally anybody. But the good thing is that it’s very treatable.”
Gandy recommends that anyone who is actively using opioids or knows people who may be, and are thus at an increased risk of an overdose, should carry Naloxone, potentially a few doses since it can take more than one to reverse the effects of an overdose.
Adapt is an organization in Douglas County that provides addiction recovery services, through both outpatient and residential treatment programs.
For more resources and support visit the HIV Alliance, Douglas Public Health Network and Adapt websites.