by Laura Krantz vtdigger.org A fast-acting drug that can revive someone who has overdosed on opiates will be in the vest of every state trooper in the coming weeks, Governor Peter Shumlin announced Monday at a news conference in Waterbury.In addition, officials plan to distribute that drug, naloxone, at opiate addiction treatment centers and make it available on ambulances. Eventually the state wants to allow doctors to prescribe Narcan to patients who would be able to pick it up at the pharmacy. PHOTO: R. Gil Kerlikowske, center, President Obama’s “drug czar,” visited Vermont to see how Vermont is battling drug addiction and spoke at a news conference at which the state announced its plan to equip police and others with the opiate overdose antidote naloxone. Photo by Laura Krantz/VTDigger
The state’s struggle with opiate addiction is no secret, officials said, and they want to prevent addicts from dying and instead get them into treatment.
Shumlin announced the plan to expand access to naloxone as he stood beside R. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama’s “drug czar” who visited the state to see how Vermont is battling drug addiction. After the news conference he toured the HowardCenter addiction treatment facility.
“I’m full of a lot of optimism, and I’m full of a lot of hope after having listened to everyone here about the approach that this has taken,” Kerlikowske said.
Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama administration, praised the way Vermont law enforcement and health officials have worked together to solve the problem.
That partnership was on display Monday at state police headquarters, where law enforcement, health officials, legislators and others flanked the governor and Kerlikowske at the podium. They had a meeting about opiate addiction before the news conference.
Narcan, the brand name of naloxone, is a drug that is sprayed into the nose of a person who has overdosed. It blocks the effect of the opioids and restores normal breathing.
Someone who is unresponsive, not breathing and blue in the face will revive 30 seconds after receiving the drug, explained Health Commissioner Harry Chen.
“Literally this is a life-saving drug,” Chen said, demonstrating how the kit can be assembled in 15 seconds.
Naloxone works best when used as soon as possible after an overdose, and in order to save lives, state officials want to make the overdose antidote more widely available, especially to addicts and their families.
So far it is only distributed from two sites as part of a 500-dose pilot program. Four hundred doses were given to HowardCenter in Burlington and 100 to the HIV/HRC Resource Center in White River Junction.
About 140 of those doses have been distributed, Chen said. At least seven lives have been saved as a result, Shumlin said.
The so-called Good Samaritan bill passed by the Legislature last year offers immunity from certain crimes to people who seek medical assistance, including administering naloxone, for themselves or others who overdosed.
State police troopers will be able to carry the drug after they complete an hour of online training and an hour of practical training, Col. Thomas L’Esperance said.
The kit will likely be attached to troopers’ bullet-proof vests, to keep it the correct temperature and also because troopers’ belts are already weighted down with other equipment, he said.
Ten troopers carry Narcan presently, and allowing others to do so is a no-brainer, L’Esperance said.
“This was by far the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make as director of the state police,” he said.
Kerlikowske, who served eight years as Seattle police chief, said naloxone is “police proof. You really can’t foul this up.”
L’Esperance Monday said he doesn’t know how much the naloxone will cost or how it will be paid for, but is counting on help from the Department of Health.
“We’ll find the money somewhere,” L’Esperance said.
A naloxone kit costs the state $15, Chen said. There are 327 sworn members of the state police, which would put the cost of the drug itself at around $5,000.
L’Esperance Monday emphasized the pervasiveness of the opiate addiction problem in Vermont.
“If you don’t know someone today who has an opiate addiction, you will,” he said.
In addition to saving those who overdose, police will continue to go after drug dealers, he said.
State officials also want to offer naloxone at methadone clinics, the so-called opiate treatment “hubs” that administer treatment drugs as well as coordinate therapy and other services for recovering addicts.
Rutland will likely be the first hub to offer naloxone, officials said. They said they will begin discussing those plans in the next few months.
The ultimate goal, Chen explained, is to eventually allow doctors to prescribe naloxone for patients to pick up in a kit at pharmacies. In Rhode Island naloxone kits are sold at Walgreens, he said.
The idea is for Medicaid and private insurance companies to pay for naloxone kits dispensed at pharmacies, Chen said.
Money in a special fund created by a fee imposed on pharmaceutical companies who do business with Medicaid paid for the pilot program, Chen said.
In addition, in April all emergency medical technicians on ambulances will be allowed to administer naloxone, Chen said. Until now, only advanced-level EMTs were permitted to do so.
Kerlikowske also talked about drug addiction’s economic effect, calling it a “huge economic drain” that costs the country $193 billion per year.
Other states are battling similar problems, he said. Only some have openly admitted how widespread the issue is, he said.
Kerlikowske said in Quincy, Mass., where he said naloxone saved 200 lives in the past three years and only a “handful” of people were repeat naloxone users.
Asked how the potential legalization of marijuana might affect the state’s fight against opiate addiction, Kerlikowske said “I think I’m going to dodge that question,” citing his expected move to a new job as U.S. commissioner of customs.