A major pharmacy chain is expected to announce plans Monday to make naloxone, an antidote for heroin overdose, more available to users and health-care professionals in Ohio.
Officials with CVS drug stores, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and the White House national drug policy director, Michael Botticelli, will host a community forum on drug abuse Monday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the University of Toledo’s Scott Park Student Center.
CVS officials will outline steps the pharmacy chain plans to take to make naloxone more available during a news conference before the forum.
Naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, can reverse a heroin overdose by countering breathing-suppression effects that opioid overdoses have on the brain.
Administered as a nasal inhaler or with an injection, naloxone has not been available in Ohio stores.
Ohio legislators have in the past year changed laws to make it easier to distribute naloxone widely.
It is used locally by police and emergency crews, who are typically the first called for help for a heroin or other opiate overdose.
The Lucas County Health Department and the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board also have distributed naloxone kits to the public since November.
Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp said members of the local Drug Abuse Response Team are happy to have the drug available to help addicts and their loved ones respond to overdoses.
Naloxone’s availability for the general public to dispense has not always been supported by medical and law-enforcement professionals.
“When it was first given to safety forces, some people objected to it being in the hands of nonprofessionals,” Sheriff Tharp said.
The antidote is easy to administer. A small tube of medication is screwed into a syringe attached to an atomizer. The person administering naloxone squeezes half of the tube into each of the victim’s nostrils.
“We are in a heroin epidemic and this is just another tool to step up and be able to save lives,” Sheriff Tharp said.
Despite naloxone’s increased use in the Toledo area, the number of fatal overdoses from heroin and a drug often mixed with it, fentanyl, increased last year, said Dr. Robert Forney, the chief toxicologist at the Lucas County Coroner’s office.
Heroin-related overdose deaths rose from 145 in 2014 to 214 last year, with 2015 ending with a spate of overdoses involving fentanyl without heroin.
Sixty-five of last year’s deaths were from fentanyl, which can be 100 times stronger than heroin, Dr. Forney said.
“It’s like something happened on the streets. People are looking for stronger and stronger stuff — they are chasing that first high,” he said.
The community forum on the Scott Park campus is one of a series of forums across the country sponsored by the White House to discuss the opioid overdose epidemic.
The first one was in October in West Virginia.