More than 42,000 people died in the United States from opioids in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can be administered by first responders to help a person overdosing on opioids.
“Not every individual receiving naloxone struggles with substance abuse. Individuals who may be opiate naive and take a prescribed medication for the first time could experience respiratory distress,” said the Knox County Health Department. “Children accidentally taking adult medication or elderly individuals who may unintentionally take more than the prescribed dose are also at risk.”
The medication is able to help with overdose symptoms for around 30-90 minutes. Symptoms can include: loss of consciousness, slow or shallow breathing, vomiting, pale or clammy face, blue lips or skin, and a pulse that is slow, erratic or undetected.
“I think that we need to realize that this really is an issue,” said Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen. “We really need to get all hands on deck.”
A group formed of first-responders, the Naloxone Community Collaborative, is working to help people experiencing drug overdose symptoms and connect them with follow-up care. The group hopes to decrease the number of overdoses and deaths in Knoxville and Knox County.
Naloxone in Knox County
More than 1,200 people received the medication in Knox County during Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017, according to the Knox County Health Department.
Knoxville Police Department Chief David Rausch believes the report shows that there is a drug problem in Knox County.
The health department estimates three or more people receive naloxone every day in the area.
“The rumor we always hear is that we are saving these addicts so that they can use again,” said Cheif Rausch. “When you look at the numbers only seven percent of those we have to use naloxone on in Knox County from first responders have had to have an additional use.”
The department found that out of the 1,268 people who needed naloxone during the time period of the study, 93 received the medication during at least two separate occasions in a 12-month time frame.
Emergency medical responders in Knox County have used naloxone for almost 30 years, however, it wasn’t until recently that other agencies including the Knoxville Police Department started to carry the medication.
“While it’s not exactly what we signed on to do specifically, it still falls into the realm of what we do and that’s community safety,” said Chief Rausch. “As things adjust and change in communities, officers will adjust and change with it.”
The Knoxville Police Department administers a 2.0 dose of the medication in nasal spray form. The Knoxville Fire Department and AMR Rural/Metro can adjust the dose from 0.4 mg to 2.0 mg when needed.
More than 100 individuals required a dose greater than 2.0 mg.
Opioids can affect many populations. The CDC says on average 115 people die every day from an opioid overdose in the country.
The Knox County Health Department study found most people who needed naloxone during the time of its study were white males. Also, most people were between the ages of 25 and 39.
“These age groups represent nearly half of all individuals receiving naloxone in this timeframe.”
Certain zip codes in the county experienced frequent deployments of naloxone: 37920, 37917, 37921 and 37918.
“When considering the proportion of population affected, a greater burden of suspected overdose occurs in the 37921, 37917 and 37916 ZIP code areas.”
Most deployments involved one person, however, there were 11 occasions in which the medication was used for more than one person at the same location.
What can be done
The Naloxone Community Collaborative believes there are steps that can be taken to help decrease the number of overdoses in Knox County.
Prescribers and pharmacies can co-prescribe the medication when writing narcotic prescriptions. The medication and counseling should be provided to patients at the time of prescription pick-up. Also, there should be more educational opportunities for prescribers.
The collaborative hopes to personally take steps to help with the epidemic, including connecting people to treatment, tracking the number of naloxone prescriptions in the area, providing resources to communities with high percentages of overdoses and more.