Wednesday, April 12, 2017

State health department offers services to fight opioid epidemic, including free antidote for overdoses and education about it

The state Department for Public Health is reminding communities of the services it offers to address the impact of opioid abuse, and to educate the public about an antidote to overdoses.

"We have an enormous challenge across Kentucky right now," Dr. Ardis Hoven, the department's consultant for infectious diseases, says in a video. "Drug abuse, particularly among those who inject heroin or other forms pf opioids has reached epidemic proportions. It has become clear to use that responding to this crisis means more than drug rehabilitation. We have to address all the outlying health issues attached to injection drug use and that means treating all the forms of harm associated with it."
The agency acted after "a recent report of a death in Louisville linked to the highly potent painkiller carfentanyl, which is a large animal tranquillizer never intended for human use," it said in a press release. "It can be hidden in heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine."

“This is a very serious public health issue tied to a number of overdoses, hospitalizations and deaths across the country,” said Dr. Hiram Polk Jr., commissioner of the department. “Heroin, particularly contaminated heroin mixed with carfentanyl, fentanyl and other toxic substances, is highly toxic and can lead to respiratory failure and death. As healthcare professionals and community leaders, we must be aware of the threat and take steps to address it.”

Polk said hospitals should stock up on naloxone, often known by its brand name Narcan), an antidote to heroin and other drug overdoses.

He also noted that his agency employs a mobile pharmacy unit and on-site testing for hepatitis C and HIV, which can spread through intravenous drug use. The mobile unit is staffed with pharmacists who visit at the request of local health departments to test for the diseases, provide communities with training in the use of naloxone, and distribute free naloxone to community members who request it.

“It can take as much as three times the amount of naloxone to reverse an overdose with these mixed drugs as it would normally,” Polk said. “Communities must be educated about the risks associated with these dangerous drugs.”

Friends and loved ones of those at risk from opioid abuse can get more information about naloxone at Kentucky Stop Overdoses, which also has a registry of pharmacies where the drug is available. The mobile harm reduction program, sponsored by the health department and the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, provides education and a free supply of naloxone to those who visit the mobile pharmacy when it’s in a community. It is visiting Garrard and Nelson counties in April.

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