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After one year, the Colorado Naloxone Project will soon be available nationally

Photo of two Narcan devices, sealed in blister packs, resting on top of a stack of medical charts.
Mary Altaffer
This July 3, 2018 file photo shows a Narcan nasal device which delivers naloxone.

It's been a year since a local group launched what's called the Colorado Naloxone Project, an ambitious effort to combat the opioid overdose crisis that plagues our region, as well as much of the country. Naloxone is a safe drug used to counteract overdoses. And the project is designed to get naloxone into the hands of people most at risk for overdoses.

Dr. Don Stader, chair of the Colorado Naloxone Project, joins KUNC's Yoselin Meza Miranda to discuss this effort.

Interview Highlights:
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Yoselin Meza Miranda: Let's begin with how this project started. What first prompted this effort? What needs did you see? 

Dr. Donald Stader: You know, what prompted this effort was my experience in the emergency department, seeing a tremendous spike in overdoses and not having all the tools that I thought clinicians and communities needed to help curb overdose deaths, which is namely naloxone given out in an efficient and sustainable manner. We knew when I looked at the research that writing prescriptions for naloxone is actually a very bad intervention in terms of its efficacy. Only 2% to 30% of people actually go fill a prescription. And we know that 100% of the time when I put naloxone in someone's hands before they're discharged and I tell them how to respond to an overdose, that they go home with that lifesaving drug.

How many hospitals are enrolled in the program now and how many people have been treated?

So, we are extremely proud of our state in the fact that 107 Colorado hospitals have enrolled in the program. We have provided through the project 12,684 doses of naloxone to hospitals to give directly to patients in the last 10 or so months. We've distributed over 3,358 of those doses directly into patients’ hands.

Do you think that with the help of this project, we might see a decrease in overdoses for this year? And are we seeing any impacts?

We are definitely seeing impacts, and I've heard several stories now of people who are giving naloxone through this project, who then went on to save someone else's life, or who their lives have been saved by utilization of this medication. It is my strong thought that this will help decrease overdose deaths. Now, will it decrease it to the point where we see a reversal? Or do we see downtrending of deaths? That I do not know. In 2021, we had the most overdoses we've ever had in our state of Colorado, where we project over 1,838 people lost their lives to an overdose. The first thing is it's not a light switch, right? So, it's not going to go from these high numbers to low numbers, it's really a trend. So, we have to start slowing those numbers down and then hopefully reverse by giving people more access to naloxone, by making the drug supply safer. And finally, by getting people into treatment.

Is this project only in Colorado or do you plan to expand?

So the project this year will be expanding in several different ways. The first is we're becoming a nonprofit so that we can really reflect that we're there for the public. We just have people's best interests in mind and our communities in mind. And the second thing is we are going national. Different states from Pennsylvania to Hawaii have literally reached out and said, “Well, what you're doing in Colorado is very uniquel. How can we do the same thing in our community, in our states?” So coming probably in the summer, we'll be launching national chapters of the Colorado Naloxone Project.

Is there anything else that you would like to share or add?

We know that pregnant mothers die from overdose at very high rates. Overdoses are either the No. 1 or No. 2 killer of pregnant moms in our state. We've started the first pilots of naloxone from labor and delivery unit. Every unit should have the ability to counsel moms and widows who are using drugs and to get them home of lifesaving drug medications so that we keep more families together. I believe we lose less pregnant women and children. And lastly, we still have around 10 to 15 hospitals that have not signed up, and we really want to make this the first state with 100% participation.

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