Commentary: Prescribe Naloxone along with patient’s opioids

Co-prescribing the overdose treatment is an effective method of harm reduction that can save lives.

By Michael Ninburg

For The Herald

At the Hepatitis Education Project in south Seattle, we see the effects of the opioid crisis every day.

We hear stories from our syringe-exchange clients about accidental overdoses and deaths. We are also doing what we can to help ameliorate the crisis by distributing free kits of Naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote.

As the contours of the opioid crisis facing our country have evolved over time, it is important that we continue to innovate in our public health response locally. This means building closer collaboration between social service organizations and clinical health care providers; but it also means wider availability of evidence-based interventions, such as Naloxone.

In 2017, the number of deaths related to opioid overdose were six times greater than in 1999. The most vulnerable individuals in our community are experiencing a disproportionate share of this epidemic. Medicaid patients are prescribed opioids at twice the rate of the general public and are at three to six times the risk of prescription overdose. In Washington state, one study found that 45 percent of people who died from a prescribed opioid overdose were Medicaid enrollees. Nationally, we know that over 80 precent of prescription opioid overdose deaths are accidental.

Over time, we know that rising to the challenge of a public health emergency of this scale requires closer collaboration among public health, first responders, social service agencies and clinical health care providers. Some regional local governments have already started piloting innovative solutions that treat people with dignity and respect by co-locating recovery services with resources that promote longer-term economic stability and housing. Low-acuity emergency response partnerships have been formed that focus on helping people struggling with opioids find a pathway to recovery instead of jail time.

Unfortunately, all the resources in the world won’t make a difference to people struggling with opioids, if they don’t have access to drug treatment on demand, opiate substitution therapy and Naloxone. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health highlights the powerful impact of this emergency solution. The NIH found that patients who were co-prescribed Naloxone had 47 percent fewer emergency room visits after xi months and 63 percent fewer visits after 1 year than patients who were not. The University of New Mexico pain clinic recently changed its internal prescribing policy to add Naloxone co-rx as a “universal precaution” for all its patients, due to the significant reduction in adverse events for their patients after they expanded Naloxone access and use.

Motivated by the alarming rise in opioid overdose deaths, Washington state is implementing a new law passed by the Legislature that makes changes to how opioids are prescribed, monitored and treated.

The new prescribing guidelines resulting from the law are intended to reduce the number of people who inadvertently become addicted to opioids and decrease deaths resulting from their use by co-prescribing Naloxone for certain at-risk patients. Beginning Jan. 1, prescribers are supposed to engage and assess their patients and co-prescribe Naloxone to patients who may be at risk of overdose.

The evidence is clear that prioritizing harm reduction in the fight against the opioid crisis helps people recover their lives, their loved ones and their autonomy. As we think about the next steps in response, we have to build on this foundational truth.

Helping people struggling with opioids is everyone’s responsibility – friends and family, co-workers and neighbors. Expanding access to emergency interventions such as Naloxone increases the chance that someone will have a lifeline when they need it most. By working with more compassion and empathy, we can help prevent needless deaths and help those in need live more productive and fulfilling lives.

Michael Ninburg is the executive director of the Hepatitis Education Project, a Seattle-based regional non-profit that works to improve the health of underserved communities disproportionately affected by viral hepatitis. Ninburg also serves as the president of the World Hepatitis Alliance, an organization that works across 89 countries with the goal of eliminating hepatitis by 2030.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Sunday, July 3

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2016 file photo, a man fishes for salmon in the Snake River above the Lower Granite Dam in Washington state. Three Republican U.S. House members from Washington state are criticizing Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for opposing their legislation that would prevent the breaching of four dams on the Snake River to help improve endangered salmon runs. (Jesse Tinsley /The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)
Editorial: Waiting could force bad choice on dams, salmon

Work should begin now to begin replacing what four dams on the Snake River provide.

Comment: Making our celebration about ‘All Rights for All!’

A trio of 19th-century journalists demanded nothing less than an end to sexism, homophobia and racism.

Comment: Cutting through the haze of FDA’s fight with Juul

The FDA wants to bar its e-cigarettes over a lack of data, but can vaping help adults quit smoking?

Sullivan: Weekly 2 more newspapers close as ‘news desert’ grows

Without a reliable source of local news, false information spreads and democracy falters.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Saturday, July 2

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Dan Hazen
Dan Hazen: Political labels set fight, leave out the middle

‘Conservative’ and ‘liberal’ don’t address each sides’ true motivations and ignore collaboration we need.

Jeremy Steiner: Look again; you might see reason to celebrate

Despite our worries, Americans have a lot to celebrate as the nation marks its 246th birthday.

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school's football field. After losing his coaching job for refusing to stop kneeling in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy will take his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 25, 2022, saying the Bremerton School District violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to let him continue praying at midfield after games. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Editorial: Court majority weakens church, state separation

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision does more to hurt religious liberty than protect a coach’s prayer.

Most Read