EVERETT — The Snohomish Health District has stepped up to provide naloxone, the life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, when the county stops supplying it in January.
When first introduced several years ago, emergency workers considered naloxone a miracle drug for its ability to seemingly bring back people from the edge of death.
The county started providing the drug to local law enforcement agencies in 2015. More than 250 kits have been used since mid-2015 through August 2019.
The county informed police departments in late June they planned to drop the service, leaving cities in a bind, said Edmonds city council member Adrienne Fraley-Monillas.
But the district board voted earlier this month to pick up the slack.
“Opioid use and addiction is a public health crisis and I want to make sure we take the utmost care possible for the people that are victims of this sort of epidemic,” Fraley-Monillas, also a health district board member, said.
The district will take over the program for cities that will contribute funding of at least $1 per resident in 2020.
Municipalities that don’t contribute per capita but still want to have the district coordinate the naloxone program on their behalf can just pay the district for the naloxone and administrative fees.
The naloxone itself will cost about $40,000 annually, said district spokesperson Heather Thomas.
They plan to look for grants to help further reduce that cost.
Eight jurisdictions have made per capita commitments for 2020 so far.
Brier has declined to participate.
The county has spent $45,000 to $50,000 a year to supply naloxone through a pilot program 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 than 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, Anji Jorstad, a mental health supervisor at the county, said previously. 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.
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 the 2020 budget. Cities could apply for some of the money to purchase naloxone, Brell Vujovic said.
The district will manage the program for one year before reassessing.
“There’s such a small window when someone overdoses on this drug for us to save them,.” Fraley-Monillas said. “Having access to the antidote is critical in saving lives.”
Fraley-Monillas is hopeful the program will get the support it needs to continue.
“I understand people don’t want to spend a lot of tax dollars on this stuff,” she said. “But their opinion would change if it were their family member.”
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.