SALT LAKE CITY — Hoping to use a call to action from the U.S. surgeon general as a springboard for awareness about the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, the Odyssey House started handing out free doses of it this week.
The substance abuse disorder and mental illness treatment center had given out about 50 kits of naloxone through Friday afternoon, said the organization's CEO, Adam Cohen.
On Thursday, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams issued an advisory "recommending that more individuals, including family, friends and those who are personally at risk for an opioid overdose, also keep the drug on hand," the U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health said in a release.
“Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose — that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” Adams said in a statement. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.”
Cohen said Adams' official advisory is "a realization of the crisis that we're in."
"The urging by the surgeon general means that maybe people will take more notice and will be able to save more lives and prevent unnecessary deaths by opioids," Cohen told the Deseret News.
Cohen said Odyssey House "took immediate action" upon seeing the advisory. The organization requested 500 naloxone kits from the Salt Lake County Division of Behavioral Health, he said.
Cohen estimated that all 500 will likely be snatched up by the end of next week. Each contains two doses of the drug.
Naloxone can reverse the effects of a potentially deadly opioid overdose. It can be administered with a needle injection, or, in the case of the kits the Odyssey House is distributing, via a nasal spray. Naloxone is not addictive and is safe to administer even when it turns out the patient was not overdosing, according to health experts.
Cohen said the kits can help a person save another's life even when "there's a very small window of time during which you might be able to reduce an overdose."
He urged those who have a loved one or friend who has struggled with opioid addiction to own a naloxone kit, even if that person has recovered from their dependence.
"They may (relapse) and if they do, particularly with opioids, their use after a period of abstinence puts them at higher risk for overdose and overdose deaths," he said. "It may very well save their life in case they do slip once, because that's all it takes."
Plus, he said, "you never know if you're going to be the one who comes upon somebody overdosing" in a public setting.
In 2017, pharmacies gave out 4,275 doses of the drug following a Utah Department of Health order that removed individual prescription requirements, state officials said recently.
Meanwhile, "other … data sources showed there were 99 naloxone reversals in 2017 as a direct result of outreach efforts by the (department), local agencies, and syringe exchange providers across the state," according to health department spokeswoman Jenny Johnson.9 comments on this story
The Utah Naloxone Association, housed at the University of Utah Department of Pediatrics, has said it also distributed about 34,400 naloxone doses to police agencies, substance abuse disorder treatment providers and others between July 2015 and last month. The organization estimates that distributing the drug led to 2,056 overdose reversals in that time period.
"I think in large part, the state of Utah has been leading the pack in trying to get a handle on this, and we are seeing results," Cohen said.
Anyone interested in picking up a free naloxone kit can do so by visiting the Odyssey House admission office, 344 E. 100 South, in Salt Lake City, which is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.