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Overdose Recovery Drug Becomes More Widely Available

Last year, the Vermont Legislature approved the use of medication called Narcan that can prevent drug users from dying of an overdose. The Health Department set up two pilot sites in Burlington and White River Junction. Now Narcan is becoming more widely available.

On a recent afternoon in  his small office on the second floor of St. Johnsbury’s Police Department, Chief Clement Houde pulled a rectangular pink cardboard container out of his desk drawer. It’s about the size of a travel toothpaste box.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen this or not, but this is the applicator. So you take the yellow piece off the end here…” he explained, unwrapping the package.

Houde connected a plastic plunger carrying the Narcan dose to a nasal adapter that he says can save an opiate user’s life. If it’s administered in time during a serious overdose, it helps restore breathing compromised by the opiate. At first, Houde wasn’t sure he should buy these kits—about $22 each—and hand them out to his officers.

“Do I want the liability of my guys making a decision about whether to use it or not, or having side effects or aftermath, that kind of thing? But when I went to the training and got more educated about it, it became a simple story. I’d be hard pressed to find a reason why not to have it at this point,” Houde said.

Houde’s officers haven’t had to use a Narcan kit yet, but Narcan has been successfully administered at least four times in Burlington. Now that it’s becoming available to emergency workers, police, and some doctors, state health officials say the chances of saving lives are increasing statewide. 

Mike Leyden is Deputy Director for Emergency Medical Services at Vermont’s Department of Health, and is overseeing the Narcan program.  He sees Narcan as an important weapon in the battle against opiate abuse.

“A patient that dies from an overdose never makes to recovery. Right? They never get across that bridge of treatment into recovery,” Leyden said.

Nancy Bassett crossed that bridge over 14 years ago. A recovering heroin addict, she now co-directs Kingdom Recovery Center in St. Johnsbury. She says Narcan has long been available on the street. In fact, she and her late husband once kept some, along with their drugs. But while she was serving time in prison, her husband accidentally overdosed and died.

“And I will always feel guilty that I wasn’t there and that if I had Narcan maybe I could have saved him but, you know, I think that’s just - you know, I’m fooling myself,” Bassett said.

So Bassett doesn’t want users, by-standers or prescribers to be lulled into thinking that Narcan is a panacea for drug abuse and overdose. Many users, she notes, overdose out of range of help. Still, she’s happy that police and other emergency workers are now carrying it. The Vermont State Police has begun training troopers in its use, and a few have been given the kits as part of a pilot project before a full roll-out begins in late spring.   

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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