The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those with substance use disorders has been devastating. Many individuals in recovery have lost connections to support and have been left in isolation. In addition, many in-person programs have been unable to operate during various times of the pandemic, leaving those in active addiction with fewer resources. However, one aspect of harm reduction that has continued throughout the challenges of the pandemic is naloxone training and distribution, with many programs introducing innovative ways to continue assisting those in need.
West Virginia’s first documented case of COVID-19 occurred on March 17, 2020, with a stay-at-home order issued a few days later. Many harm reduction programs had to develop ways to continue distributing naloxone to limit lives lost to opioid overdose. Several programs began shifting to smaller online and outdoor group trainings to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. During this time, thousands of naloxone kits were distributed to many facilities throughout the state including harm reduction programs, local health departments, Medication Assisted Treatment programs, Crisis Stabilization Units, Quick Response Teams, jails, hospitals, homeless coalitions, and community groups. Individuals at each of these facilities participated in Train the Trainer trainings to ensure proper use and instruction when distributing naloxone in these facilities. In addition, the first “Save a Life, Free Naloxone Day” was held in Kanawha and Putnam counties on September 2, 2020.
“Save a Life, Free Naloxone Day” was the first all-day event to distribute naloxone in West Virginia. Leading up to the event, two large Train the Trainer events were held to ensure every individual providing training and/or distributing naloxone would be properly prepared prior to the event. During these trainings, 133 individuals were given instructions in the distribution of naloxone. Volunteers for this event ranged from healthcare providers, including physicians, pharmacists, nurses, psychologists, physician assistants, and medical/pharmacy students, to first responders, faith leaders, peer recovery coaches, prevention leads, and addiction counselors. Seventeen sites located in Kanawha and Putnam counties were used for training in the use of naloxone and distribution to any person who requested it. During this one-day event, 1,117 naloxone kits, the equivalent of 2,234 doses, were distributed. The naloxone kits were funded through the Prescription Drug Overdose grant from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, Charleston Area Medical Center, Cabin Creek Health Systems, and Health Right.
Although “Save a Life Day” was extremely successful, the event’ s reach was limited to residents of two counties. Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 15,800 naloxone kits, or 31,600 doses, have been distributed to multiple facilities and organizations throughout West Virginia. Additional naloxone kits are available for future trainings.
Several grants have been used to fund naloxone distribution throughout West Virginia. The grants provided through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Behavioral Health were facilitated by the University of Charleston for distribution and trainings. From March 2020 through December 2020, over 7,900 kits were provided through the State Targeted Response grant, more than 5,200 kits were provided through the Prescription Drug Overdose grant, over 1,300 were provided through the First Responder-Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act grant, and 540 kits were provided through the State Opioid Response (SOR) grant. In addition to naloxone that was distributed, trainings were also provided by the University of Charleston through the SOR grant.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,539 individuals have been trained, with 341 trained as trainers. These numbers do not include naloxone funded through other agencies, purchased, or privately funded. In addition, every facility or organization must provide training or counseling to anyone receiving naloxone, and these numbers are not included in the total trained through the University of Charleston (e.g., a retail pharmacy).
Although thousands of community members, healthcare providers, first responders, and many others have been trained and provided naloxone in West Virginia, the number of lives lost continues to increase. All individuals with an opioid prescription, anyone having a friend or family member with a substance use disorder, or anyone willing and able to save a life should consider getting trained in naloxone administration and obtaining a kit to carry at all times in the event they encounter someone experiencing an opioid overdose.
If you are interested in naloxone training opportunities, please email Dr. Lindsay Acree at firstname.lastname@example.org.