To save lives, bystanders, EMTs and police have utilized the opioid antidote drug, naloxone, over hundreds of times in the past few years in Baltimore. With so many doses administered in such a short period of time, Baltimore health officials are experiencing a shortage on naloxone.
The city health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said the demand for naloxone has increased simultaneously with the drug epidemic. To meet the supply and demand, the health department needs funding.
“We are rationing,” she said. “We’re deciding who is the highest risk and giving it to them.”
With an estimated 4,000 doses left, health officials are rationing them out so there is enough to last until next May. Doses are distributed two at a time to those at an increased risk for drug overdose, including IV drug users. The department distributes the drug through outreach workers and the city’s needle exchange vans. Outreach workers are set up in “hotspots” where a string of overdoses have recently occurred.
“If I had 10,000 doses and gave them to everyone who requested them, I’d run out in about two weeks,” Wen said.
The public health community relies on naloxone to combat fatalities related to opioids, including heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers. The health community’s goal is to keep those addicted to opioids alive, so they can get into treatment.
Wen said she had more doses on hand then in recent years, but it is not enough to keep up with the increasing demand.
In 2016, 2,089 deaths in Maryland were related to opioid overdose, which was up 66 percent from 2015. Nearly a third, 694, of the deaths were in Baltimore and the shares were higher for fentanyl and heroin, according to health officials. There are currently about 21,000 active heroin users in Baltimore.
For fiscal 2016, the department bought 3,340 units and 3,120 units for fiscal 2017. The city relies on pharmaceutical company and charitable donations, along with state grants to pay for naloxone.
Medicaid recipients are only charged $1 for a dose of naloxone, which can be purchased through retail pharmacies.