Fewer overdoses ending in death

Naloxone is living up to its reputation as a lifesaving drug for treating those who have overdosed on heroin and other opioid drugs.

The number of opioid overdose deaths so far this year stands at six, one fifth the total of 30 recorded in 2015 in the area that includes Shenandoah, Warren, Clarke, Page and Frederick counties. Frederick and Warren counties each had three deaths.

The death toll is only part of the story. The data from 2016 also shows that more people are surviving drug overdoses, a trend that Lauren Cummings, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, attributes to emergency responders’ quick and effective administration of Naloxone to overdose victims.

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, has been available only to members of ambulance crews and medical professionals until recently when the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office trained its members on how to administer the drug to overdose victims.

Cummings said Naloxone is the reason why there have been five deaths and 16 non-fatal overdoses through March 12, compared with eight deaths and seven non-fatal overdoses over the same period in 2015. Non-fatal overdose numbers encompassing the last three weeks were not available.

“We’ve had almost double the injuries that we had last year, but our deaths are down by three,” Cummings said. “What this tells me is that we’re getting better at saving people’s lives, and I can’t stress enough the importance of Naloxone or Narcan and having it available to emergency personnel. Our deaths would be much higher if it were not for Naloxone or Narcan.”

Cummings said the coalition is working to make Naloxone available to the family members of drug users. Family members, once properly trained in administering Naloxone, can obtain a prescription for the drug through a specially designated local physician.

Cummings described Naloxone as “very expensive” – about $75 for two doses. Efforts to increase its availability have also been hindered by shortages and backlogged orders that have delayed shipments to the community.

“The coalition feels that one overdose is too many,” Cummings said of the 2016 figures. “We see these numbers as progress, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to help folks struggling with addiction in our community.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com