EVERETT — When first introduced several years ago, emergency workers considered it a miracle drug for its ability to seemingly bring back people from the edge of death.
Starting next year, Snohomish County will no longer provide naloxone, the life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, to local law enforcement agencies. More than 250 kits have been used since mid-2015 through August 2019.
The county informed police departments in late June about the change, leaving cities in a bind, said Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, an Edmonds city councilmember and member of the Snohomish Health District board.
“I’m very, very concerned this is going to increase deaths in our county,” Fraley-Monillas said. “Is this just going to be a drug for the affluent communities who can afford it?”
The county spends $45,000 to $50,000 a year to supply naloxone through a pilot program that was launched in 2015 with money from federal grants. Since then, local, state and federal funds have supported the program, which includes naloxone kits, training and a tracking system, according to Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, director of the county’s Human Service Department.
The naloxone nasal spray cannot harm the patient and is much simpler to administer compared to injections given by paramedics. It blocks the effects of opioid overdose, which includes shallow breathing. If administered in time, it can reverse overdose symptoms within a couple of minutes. It’s typically used on people who have overdosed on heroin or other opioid painkillers, such as morphine, oxycodone and Vicodin.
The county never intended to fund the program indefinitely, said Anji Jorstad, a mental health supervisor at the county. The pilot was launched to see if officers carrying naloxone would be beneficial, she added. And at the time, the county was the only place law enforcement agencies could get the drug.
“It was really new as a reversal opportunity,” she said.
Now it is available without a prescription. Since the program started, about 2,550 naloxone kits have been distributed to law enforcement agencies. On average about one in 10 have been used, according to county data. Each cost $75.
The goal was for every officer to carry a kit, Jorstad said, though “the likelihood of using it isn’t a guarantee.”
While dedicated money for the drug is drying up, County Executive Dave Somers did include $250,000 for the Opioid Response Multi-agency Coordination group in a draft of the 2020 budget. Cities could apply for some of the money to purchase naloxone, Brell Vujovic said.
“It’s important it’s widely available,” she said. “This is saving lives, no question about it.”
The county will replace all naloxone kits until Dec. 31.
Fraley-Monillas, the Edmonds councilmember, said cities are not just going to have to find a way to pay for naloxone but also track the drug which expires after two years and train officers to use it. Altogether that could be a heavy lift, especially for smaller cities.
“We are going to pay for it one way or another, or pay for it through people dying,” she said.
Fraley-Monillas said the health district had three options; do nothing, find grant money, or take over the program for cities that contribute funds to the district.
No decision has been made.