Utah-funded Naloxone kits are reversing prescription opioid overdoses — 46 to be exact

Pilot program to promote the anti-overdose drug is one way Utah officials hope to curb the state’s rising rate of overdose deaths.<br>

(AP Photo/John Minchillo) A Naloxone nasal injector being demonstrated at a Cincinnati supermarket in 2016. Officials with the Utah Department of Health announced Thursday that a six-month pilot program to promote use of the anti-overdose drug by health and law enforcement agencies had resulted in distribution of nearly 2,000 Naloxone kits — and at least 46 cases where opioid overdoses were reversed.

Police and health workers saved more than 50 lives with the anti-overdose drug Naloxone in just six months — a small number compared to the yearly death toll of prescription overdoses in Utah.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, the state Department of Health awarded 32 agencies, including police and health departments, about $236,000 to buy and hand out Naloxone kits, as well as train individuals how to use them.

And during that six-month period, more than 3,000 kits were purchased and nearly 2,000 were distributed, according to the Health Department. That, in turn, led to 46 situations where an opioid overdose was reversed by the drug.

Agencies not receiving state money also reported their Naloxone purchasing and distribution over the same time period. They bought and doled out about 1,200 kits, the state reported — leading to another 25 lives being saved.

The state-funded effort was part of a pilot project aimed at reducing high rates of opioid death in Utah. In 2015, 24 people each month died from a prescription opioid overdose in the state, data shows, and Utah ranked seventh in the nation for drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2015.

“The funding for the pilot program has been critical to ensuring access to Naloxone for those at greatest risk of an overdose,” Joseph Miner, the state Health Department‘s executive director, in a statement. “Providing Naloxone may mean the difference between life and death for those struggling with opioid addiction.”

The program is one way state officials are trying to reduce the alarming surge of drug overdose deaths in recent years, described by many as part of an ongoing opioid epidemic.

In December, for example, the state made Naloxone more accessible by allowing pharmacies to hand it out without a prescription.

In January, the health department launched a statewide campaign, complete with billboards lining the highways, to education people about opioid addiction.

And this month, Intermountain Healthcare, one of the region’s largest care provider,  pledged to slash the number of opioid tablets its physicians and other health professional prescribe by 40 percent by the end of 2018.

“We still have a long way to go in solving the issues around misuse, abuse, and overdose from opioids, but we are making progress,” said Angela Stander, state Health Department spokeswoman. “We have great support with partners at the state and local level as well as in the healthcare and private sectors.”