In 2015, the Baltimore City Health Department issued a standing order for naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, allowing first responders and pharmacists to distribute the drug without a doctor’s prescription.
The nationwide opioid epidemic has not spared Baltimore City. In 2015, a report by Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene showed that the city counted 393 drug and alcohol-related deaths from 2007 to the first half of 2016, 260 of which were attributed to heroin. Through June 2016, substance-related overdoses had already claimed the lives of 290 of the city’s residents.
In an effort to mitigate the opioid abuse problem, the Baltimore City Health Department’s needle exchange van has been driving around Baltimore, distributing naloxone and teaching residents how to use the medication to reverse an opioid overdose.
“Naloxone has already prevented hundreds of deaths across Baltimore, and through this standing order, we will be able to put this lifesaving medication in the hands of thousands of Baltimoreans,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said in a September 2015 press release.
Since the implementation of the standing- order certification training, Baltimore City has conducted roughly 15,000 training sessions. In February 2016, the local government joined forces with health care professionals and the community to introduce an online training program that will teach residents how to use naloxone and issue a certificate that will allow them to receive the drug without a prescription.
“If someone is dying of overdose, they can’t save their own life. That’s why it’s so important for every one of us to learn how to use naloxone,” added Wen. She also stressed the importance of naloxone being a part of a person’s medicine cabinet and first-aid kit.
First established in 2004 to address the opiate-related overdose deaths in Baltimore, the Staying Alive program has trained 17,514 individuals to respond to emergency overdose cases and reported the reversal of 498 opioid overdoses as of June 2016.
The state-certified program trains third parties and individuals suffering from substance use disorders to use naloxone at various treatment centers and Syringe Exchange Program locations in Baltimore.
In addition to the Staying Alive program, Baltimore City hosts two other organizations offering training and certification through the Overdose Response Program (ORP), notably the Behavioral Health System Baltimore and Baltimore Student Harm Reduction Coalition.
Through the ORP, an initiative of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, residents learn to identify and treat opioid overdoses. The program also allows certified individuals to obtain and use naloxone.
Despite some states expanding the distribution of naloxone to the public, the opioid overdose reversal drug remains available by prescription only across the nation. To promote the ease of access, the FDA is dedicated to finding an over-the-counter version of naloxone.
An article on its website mentions that the FDA is contributing to the development of a Drug Facts Label, a consumer-friendly package label required for OTC products. The FDA has created a model DFL and included a pictogram along with written instructions for administering naloxone safely and efficiently.
The FDA is currently testing the model to determine if people can easily understand how to use the product.