UH Ramps Up Distribution of Overdose-Fighting Naloxone Kits in Face of Ohio’s Worsening Opioid Epidemic
August 18, 2023
UH Clinical Update | August 2023
When University Hospitals first started distributing naloxone kits to counteract opioid overdoses in 2020 as part of Ohio’s Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone), pharmacists distributed just 35 kits. Last year, the number ballooned to 2,057. This year, UH is on pace to distribute almost 3,000 of the life-saving kits – if not more.
The persistent opioid epidemic in Ohio -- plus an equally persistent desire on the part of UH caregivers to get more of these kits in the hands of people who need them -- are both fueling these eye-popping numbers, says UH pharmacist Sam Stitzel, PharmD, who leads Project DAWN at UH. Today, he says, naloxone kits are available at 14 UH locations, from inpatient units to EDs, outpatient clinics and pharmacies. Preliminary plans are also in the works to place naloxone kits in UH primary care provider offices and other outpatient facilities.
“The goal here is if somebody wants one, there’s going to be a place where they can get it,” Stitzel says. “Most of our retail pharmacies have them on demand, and then we have them in emergency departments at UH Cleveland, UH Ahuja, UH Elyria, UH Geauga and UH St. John medical centers. We also have them on a couple of different inpatient floors. That's something that's really in its infancy. We're testing how to actually put them on the inpatient floors and get them into the patients’ hands.”
One recent initiative is also to distribute Project DAWN kits at health fairs and community events, such as the Family Health and Safety Days hosted by UH community hospitals.
“That’s where the state of Ohio really wants to go,” Stitzel says. “Beyond administering and dispensing to your own patient population, how do you further affect the overall community?”
Unfortunately, the need in Ohio for naloxone kits to combat opioid overdoses remains stubbornly strong. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s SUDORS (State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System) database places Ohio as sixth in the nation for opioid-related overdose deaths – with no signs of improvement.
“It’s getting exponentially worse,” Stitzel says. “The one thing that I find both fascinating and terrifying is the fact that over half of these deaths had at least one potential opportunity for intervention. Over a quarter had a potential bystander. That’s where a greater number of kits in the community can really make a difference.”
One welcome change that is making a difference and increasing the flow of naloxone kits to the general public, Stitzel says, is a recent move by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy to remove barriers to access naloxone around the state.
“In terms of dispensing naloxone from a pharmacy setting, very little changed,” he says. “We still treat these like prescriptions and need to collect patient-specific information. However, outside of a pharmacy, in an ED, outpatient clinic or at a health fair, there are very few requirements now. We no longer need to collect patient name, date of birth and address, and we can distribute naloxone as long as we counsel the patient appropriately on how to recognize an overdose, what to do in an overdose situation, how to administer naloxone and how to properly store it.”
As his work continues, Stitzel says he’s energized by the continuing need to get naloxone kits in as many hands as possible, as well as a growing acceptance from the general public that these kits are an essential part of a safe community.
“The thing that I’m most proud about is the fact that more and more people are accepting the kits,” he says. “They're on board with the fact that they might be able to do something with this to save a life.”