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Local health officials across Kentucky say they’re getting more naloxone access, training

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The yearly Kentucky Drug Overdose Fatality Report says overdose deaths in 2023 dropped by 9.8 percent from the year prior. 2022’s report also showed a 5 percent decrease compared to 2021.

That comes as access to naloxone has improved, in part because of state and federal programs that support local health departments and emergency services. 

Holly Buchenroth, assistant professor with Eastern Kentucky University’s Emergency Medical Care Program, says requesting access has become an easy process.

“Any first responder agency can get access to this naloxone if they qualify and are in a rural county that's eligible, and all they have to do is complete a training, make a request and document the usage or distribution,” Buchenroth said.

Naloxone is a nasal spray medicine that reverses opioid overdoses with no negative side effects. It’s also sold under the brand names Narcan and Evzio.

Kentucky got $800,000 last year from the federal government to dispense Narcan to first responders in rural counties. Last year, more than 160,000 units of the medicine were distributed across the state.

Scott Lockard is the public health director of the River District Health Department, based out of Hazard. He says the added resources have been a big help. 

“A couple years ago, Narcan was much harder to access, and we've seen much more awareness around harm reduction and the importance of getting Narcan, Naloxone out there,” Lockard said. “So pretty much there's no excuse now.”

Other agencies, like the Pike County Health Department have fared similarly. Director Tammy Riley says in 2021, the agency wasn’t able to distribute any naloxone kits to individual community members. Just 82 Narcan kits were distributed to the county in total.

They’ve since been able to turn that around.

“Compare that to our 2023 data, 3,500 Naloxone kits were distributed through the Harm Reduction Program, 25 Naloxone kits through first responder and community organizations, and 240 Naloxone kits to individual community members,” Riley said.

Riley says they’ve also focused on education. For every box of Narcan they give out, they inform its receiver on how to use it.

“When you see those numbers of distribution, every box that's distributed to an individual is provided with about a five to ten minute education session,” Riley said. “We don't just hand naloxone to an individual and say, ‘Good luck.’”

The life-saving drug is also getting cheaper. Buchenroth says that’s in part because of its availability over-the-counter at chain pharmacies.

“You can pick up a generic two pack now for about $35, so the price has come down,” Buchenroth said.

But access in rural areas could still be improved. Riley says in places like Pike County, where the health department covers a large area, it’s harder to follow up with those in recovery compared to urban areas like Lexington or Louisville.

“We need a quick response team in Pike County, so when those individuals do refuse those 911, first responder services, we could deploy a quick response team to find that individual in the throes of reversal when they're most likely to seek treatment,” Riley said.

Other officials, like Lockard, say getting rid of the stigma that carrying Narcan involves is also an issue.

“Although the resource of the service may be here, they're still reluctant to make themselves available to the resources that they can access,” Lockard said. “So how do we reduce the stigma? How do we do more training in the communities?”

Maria Slone is a social worker with Lexington’s community paramedicine program and works with a quick response team. She says there’s a simple way to bridge that gap: community involvement.

“They're not going to have as many resources as we have, but how much buy-in is in their community members and their law enforcement and their courts and EMS providers?” Slone said. “What does that look like for them to have that buy-in?”

Most recently, the state has launched a website that shows a map of all the locations naloxone is available, both for free and for purchase. It’s available at findnaloxone.ky.gov.

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Shepherd joined WEKU in June 2023 as a staff reporter. He most recently worked for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as General Assignment Reporter. In that role, he collected interviews and captured photos in the northern region of West Virginia. Shepherd holds a master’s degree in Digital Marketing Communication and a bachelor’s in music from West Virginia University.
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