MONTPELIER -- Overdose antidote kits for heroin and other opiate drugs distributed to the general public through a Vermont Health Department pilot program were used at least 38 times to treat overdoses during the first six months of a pilot program, statistics show.
Of the total, the antidote was used 34 times to treat heroin overdoses since the program began in December, said a new health department report. Most of the kits were distributed in the Burlington area by the HowardCenter.
The goal of the Naloxone program is to save lives by getting the anti-overdose kits into the hands of people, including friends and family members of addicts, who would be able to use them when needed.
"In 38 different circumstances that was the case. I think that’s good news," said Michael Leyden, the deputy director of the Health Department’s Emergency Medical Services, who has been working on the Naloxone program.
"To see a couple hundred kits in the Burlington area go out the door in six months or so, I think that indicates there was a pent-up demand for this type of thing," Leyden said Monday.
While the Naloxone has been used in at least 38 occasions it is unclear how many people would have died without it, Leyden said. Last year the Health Department reported 21 people in Vermont died of heroin overdoses. It did not have a year-to-date heroin overdose death figure to determine if the use of Naloxone is cutting down the number of fatalities.
"I think it’s a reasonable assumption a good chunk of them would have been fatal," said Tom Dalton, the program coordinator for the HowardCenter’s Safe Recovery program.
The kits were distributed via sites in Burlington, White River Junction, which also serves New Hampshire clients, Rutland, St. Johnsbury and Berlin.
The legislation allowing the distribution of Naloxone was passed by the Legislature in 2013. The law included provisions that make it possible for someone to seek help for someone who is overdosing without fear of prosecution, and there is a provision in the law that would allow Naloxone to be prescribed to someone other than the addict, such as the parent of an addict.
There is also an educational component that requires people who are given the kits to get instruction that can be as short as 10 minutes. It teaches people to recognize an overdose and to ensure they call for help, even after Naloxone has been administered, because it’s possible the antidote could wear off before the effect of the underlying narcotic.
Even though the law requires people to call 911 when administering the drug, 911 was called in only 14 of the 38 uses reported to the health department.
The report found that since the program began 391 kits were distributed and 81 refills were given to clients. In addition to the 38 times the kits were used to counteract overdoses, 16 kits were lost, 21 given away or sold and six were damaged or stolen.
It’s possible some of the kits that were lost track of were also used to treat overdoses.
Laura Byrne, the executive director of the Lebanon, N.H., based HIV/HCV Resource Center, distributes Naloxone kits from a White River Junction location.
Byrne said they have had one overdose reversal since the program began, but she’s glad to be able to distribute the kits to clients, about a third of whom come from New Hampshire. She said not everyone wants the kits.
"The people that have overdosed in the past always take the kits, or the people that have witnessed overdoses, always take the kits," she said.