West Virginia Distributes 8,000 Naloxone Kits

By Kelly Burch 02/10/17

In 2015, West Virginia had the highest rate of overdose death in the country.

Naloxone kit
Naloxone kit Photo via YouTube

West Virginia will distribute 8,000 kits with naloxone in hopes of saving lives and lowering its opioid overdose death rate—the highest in the nation. 

“Naloxone is a lifesaving antidote that, if administered in a timely manner, can effectively reverse respiratory depression caused by opioid and opiate overdose and revive victims,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of West Virginia's Bureau for Public Health, told CBS News. “This collaboration represents an essential step toward turning around West Virginia’s staggering overdose statistics.” 

In 2015, West Virginia had an overdose death rate of 41.5 people per 100,000, four times the national average of 10.4 deaths per 100,000

The naloxone initiative is being funded by a $1 million federal grant. The overdose kits will be distributed to people and organizations that are likely to encounter overdose victims, including needle exchange programs, first responders, high-risk individuals, and anyone in between.

“We’re looking at getting more naloxone out into a variety of individuals’ hands, who are in a position to be a witness to an overdose or get called and respond more immediately,” said Herb Linn, deputy director of West Virginia University’s Injury Control Research Center, which will implement the project.

Officials are hopeful that the kits will save lives, but they aren't expecting the program to have an immediate impact on overdose death rates. 

“We have seen a significant and steady increase in all drug overdose deaths in West Virginia over the last several years. Unfortunately, based upon the trend we are seeing, the number of overdose deaths has not yet peaked,” said Gupta. “We expect our preliminary data for 2016 to further increase as more toxicology results are recorded.”

West Virginia emergency services administered 4,186 doses of naloxone in all of 2016. That number doesn’t include uses by hospital emergency departments, urgent care centers, first responders and family members.

“The problem remains huge in West Virginia, which likely continues to have the highest rate of overdose deaths. The naloxone distribution can only help to turn that epidemic around,” Linn said. 

In addition to the overdose reversal kits, West Virginia is trying to facilitate more conversations about opioid addiction. “We’re looking at addiction as a chronic relapsing disease rather than a stigma," said Gupta, adding that state efforts include providing more treatment, counseling and workforce training.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.