More than 33,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exceeding the number killed by guns for the first time.
The program has three goals, said Mike Kelly, the U.S. president of Adapt Pharma: Education, awareness and expansion of naloxone. There’s a stigma about the disease, he said, “and getting people to talk about it in an open forum, in schools, is a good place to start. There is an antidote. People don’t have to die. … There’s a simple, ready, easy-to-use product on the marketplace.”
Because NARCAN is a nasal spray, instead of something using vials and syringes, it’s not something that only medical professionals and first responders can use — although after it is administered, the patient needs emergency medical care to follow up on the dose.
They’re trying to provide help where it’s needed, said Alex Chan, director of national health for the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, and most overdoses of heroin and similar drugs don’t happen in clinical settings.
The effort, announced Monday by Kelly and former president Bill Clinton, expands upon an earlier initiative that has given out more than 3,000 free doses of NARCAN Nasal Spray to high schools in 33 states.
“It’s going to be a catalyst to get it into colleges and high schools across the country,” Kelly said. “If you give it to people for free, they’ll say, ‘I want it.’ … Long term, I hope every school in America has NARCAN. That’s our goal.”
“We are agnostic about who we work with in this landscape,” Chan said, not tied to any one brand but working to find the best ways to prevent drug use and abuse, including ongoing efforts with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and online, open-source information from Harvard Medical School, for example.
A 2015 survey found that nearly 16 percent of college-aged people in the U.S. said they had used opioids without a prescription, and a third said painkillers and similar pills are easy to get. While 31 percent said they knew someone who had overdosed on such drugs, 37 percent said they wouldn’t know where to go for help. The results were very similar among those who were in college and those who were not.
In September, the National Association of School Nurses developed an educational tool kit for schools, funded by a non-branded grant from Adapt Pharma, to increase awareness of the risks of such drugs among students and their families, teachers and others, and teach them about options if an overdose is suspected.
The American College Health Association advises, in guidelines about opioids, that college health centers should consider adding naloxone to their emergency box, ensure that staff have training, expertise and equipment to help the airway of an unconscious person and provide IV fluids, and plan their emergency response.