NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Drug overdose-related deaths are on the rise in Tennessee and one of the contributing factors is the increased use of opioids.
It is a battle that the federal government has started to take on, but states like Tennessee, who have been battling on the frontlines, are making moves to cut back on deaths as well.
According to the Tennessee Department to Health, overdose deaths have continued to increase since 2011 and out of the 1,451 overdose deaths in 2015, 72 percent were from opioids.
That’s a number that could increase as popularity with these deadly drugs continues, but with news laws in states like Tennessee, which offer access to life saving antidotes, there is hope that the deaths will decrease.
“It’s our most effective tool we could use in the setting of an overdose,” explained Matthew Felbinger, Clinical Pharmacist Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
While it comes in a small vial, Naloxone packs a punch that saves lives.
“Naloxone is our antidote,” Felbinger said. “It is our life-saving program. It’s given when someone overdoses on a narcotic or heroin, so we give it to people to help return their breathing.”
It is a medicine that can be injected or sprayed and a medicine that is becoming well known to first responders and emergency room staff around the nation.
”I know there is a big push to get the medicine out to the community for the first responders, paramedics, firefighters, police officers because they are often the first on the scene to try to help these patients and then help them back to life,” Felbinger said.
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Access to Naloxone though, has not always been so easy.
“In 2014 we were moving towards physicians prescribing Narcan and now with the collaborative practice agreement, as of last year, pharmacists can distribute without a prescription,” Felbinger explained.
That move, according to experts, will help save more lives and now authorized pharmacists across Tennessee are able to dispense the drug overdose antidote to any person at risk of opioid overdose, as well as family members or friends of people who are at risk.
”I think it is important because it is the only antidote we have and timing is crucial so every second counts and the longer you stop breathing the more chance you have to expire,” said Felbinger.
There are still some requirements for pharmacists as they must provide proof of completing an opioid antagonist training program within the last two years before they can dispense Naloxone.
Also individuals that are either picking up the medicine for themselves, or others, will need instructions on how to administer the drug which they can learn from a dispensing pharmacist or online.
”This is just one step in many that we need to battle this opioid crisis,”Felbinger said.