ODCP Bimonthly Newsletter May 2021- WVDII Naloxone Stigma


West Virginia experienced a 45% increase in the number of overdose deaths in 2020. In fact, according to a report released by the United States National Office of Drug Control Policy (NODP) last month, more West Virginians died of drug overdoses last year than in any previous year on record—an estimated 1,275 deaths in 2020. 

As I shared in an opinion piece published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail last year, one way to combat these dismal numbers is to save lives by using Naloxone, a medication that can reverse overdose. While once only prescribed by doctors and dispensed by pharmacists, this life saving drug is now readily available without prescription to anyone who may want it. You do not need to live with or know someone in active addiction to have Naloxone on hand. Despite these facts, stigma about Naloxone is pervasive in our communities and many persons who should carry it or have it their homes are without this life-saving medication. 

We must remind everyone that Naloxone is crucial not only for saving lives of those struggling with addiction but it is also an important part of safety in the home. Consider this—you are prescribed opioids after an invasive dental procedure. You forget to store your medicine properly and your four-year-old niece takes it and overdoses. Of course, you call 9-1-1 but having Naloxone on hand to administer before the paramedics arrive could indeed save her life.  While this may sound far-fetched, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, the vast majority of prescription-related visits to hospital emergency rooms among children are opioid related. In fact, 9 in 10 unintentional medication-related poisonings happen at home.  

In addition to responsibility to family members and loved ones at home, we have a responsibility to our community. I was struck by an article in in the August 2020 Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment that examined community responses and implications of carrying Naloxone. The article was entitled, “You’ve got to care to carry this stuff.” In short, the authors interviewed persons who administered the life-saving overdose reversal drug, Naloxone, to someone in their community (mostly strangers) and the motivations behind their actions. My take-away from the article was that in areas where there is a high belief in personal responsibility for the betterment of the community, Naloxone is more freely accepted as “normal” and “the right thing to do.” 

I’ve heard many of the “let them die” arguments far too often on social media threads or in newspaper vent lines. I wish I could say the inhumanity of these arguments surprise me. Sadly, we are at a turning point in our American history where we need to redefine what it means to be a member of a community, what it means to walk with others as you would like them to walk with you. 

I have also heard the arguments from friends and community members suggesting that since they do not know someone in active addiction, they have no use for Naloxone. If you go to a restaurant to eat, if your children play in a park, if you run in your neighborhood, if you park in a parking garage, if you shop for groceries—you may encounter a person experiencing an overdose. Everyone should carry Naloxone. 

Another myth I hear in my work is that Naloxone is dangerous if you administer it to someone who has not overdosed. This is simply not true. Naloxone has no adverse effects to those who have not overdosed. This makes it less dangerous than other medications lurking in your cabinets, nightstands, and countertops. Naloxone does two things—reverses overdose and saves lives. 

In order to reduce overdose deaths in our State, the West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute (WV DII) is emphasizing the importance of Naloxone training and distribution. This month, WV DII launched an online Naloxone training course. Anyone throughout West Virginia is invited to participate in the training. Upon completion of this online course, participants will be mailed a training certificate and two doses of auto-injector Naloxone free of charge. 

While online (Zoom) and face-to-face trainings are held throughout the state, the WV DII wanted to create an opportunity for West Virginians to get trained on proper Naloxone use and overdose response immediately by creating an on-demand online course that can be accessed anytime and from any computer. Online course participation is free and confidential and eliminates the need for persons to travel to a pharmacy, health department or training location to obtain this life saving overdose-reversal drug. 

The WV DII recently received a generous donation of Naloxone from Harbor Path, a non-profit organization with the mission of distributing this life saving medication for free. WVDII believes that Naloxone should be in any home where there is an opioid prescription. We also encourage businesses and organizations to keep Naloxone with their first aid kit or near their AED device. 

Persons wishing to complete this short, 30-minute online training can register and access the training by visiting: https://wvdii.thinkific.com/courses/naloxone-training. For more information or assistance, contact the WV DII at (681) 205-2287. 

Contact Information

Dr. Susan M. Bissett, President, WV Drug Intervention Institute