UND psychiatry residency program trains North Dakota’s front-line responders on use of Narcan
When someone overdoses on opioids, first responders aren’t always first on the scene.
More often, it’s a family member, friend, or bystander.
And overdoses are increasingly fatal. In 2016, there were 77 overdose deaths in North Dakota, compared to 20 in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s one reason it’s important to make naloxone (brand name Narcan), which can reverse opioid overdoses, more available, said Andy McLean, chair of psychiatry and behavioral science at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
“Opioid overdose doesn’t discriminate,” said McLean. “We want to ensure that more people have access to Narcan.”
The UND psychiatry residency program at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences offered training and distributed Narcan, which blocks the effects of opioids, to medical residents and other health providers at a Grand Rounds lecture Sept. 19 in Fargo.
Robert Olson, the residency program director, was pleased that McLean was able to obtain 55 Narcan kits through the State Targeted Response (STR) grant , administered by the North Dakota Department of Human Services from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.
“We felt it was an important addition to the Grand Rounds, which focused on local efforts to combat the opioid crisis,” said Olson.
After the talk by Robyn Litke Sall, substance abuse prevention coordinator from Fargo Cass Public Health, which focused on combating the opioid crisis, members of the audience were offered the opportunity to receive and learn how to use a Narcan kit. Each kit contained two doses of the lifesaving drug, which is administered intranasally.
“I was so happy our residency program did this,” said Leah Thompson, a second-year psychiatry resident in Fargo. “I had been thinking about purchasing a Narcan kit on my own because the opioid epidemic is so prevalent. It could help save someone’s life.”
Thompson said she has seen Narcan used in the hospital several times.
“The way an opioid overdose kills someone is by decreasing the respiratory drive, and the person stops breathing,” Thompson said. “Narcan can reverse the effects of opioids with minimal side effects.”
Thompson added that if the drug is administered to someone who has not overdosed, it doesn’t harm them.
“It would be a rewarding experience to save a life, but I hope never to use it,” Thompson said. “As members of the community, we are encouraged to carry it.”
Available to public
Thanks to a recent change in the North Dakota Century Code, pharmacists can now give Narcan to people who request it or are at risk for witnessing an opioid overdose. They are protected from civil or criminal liability.
“You don’t need to be the patient,” McLean said. “Any family member can request it at any participating North Dakota pharmacy.” He added that the cost has come down with the award of the STR grants. A kit of two doses of the nasal spray costs between $40 and $100.
McLean has also been involved in another Narcan distribution program with Recovery Reinvented, a state program created by Gov. Doug and First Lady Kathryn Burgum in September 2017 to promote efforts to eliminate the shame and stigma of addiction.
That was the first time that kits and training were provided to the public, said McLean. He added that two parents who received that training and a kit were able to revive their son after he overdosed.
UND is also focusing on addiction and treatment through its Grand Challenges in health and biomedical sciences as well as rural health and social problems.
The challenge, said McLean, is getting revived people into treatment.
“Many people continue to cycle in addiction,” McLean said. “As more people are treated for overdoses, we are increasing our effort to get them into treatment.”