Health Department Opioid Initiatives Director Kevin Gabbert says it involves the drug NARCAN. He says the drug will be made available free at pharmacies for people who come in and fill out some eligibility information. Gabbert says this will help some be prepared in the event they encounter someone experiencing a suspected opioid overdose.
“The cost is a barrier for a lot of individuals,” according to Gabbert. “A two-pack NARCAN kit can cost approximately 150 dollars. And for most Iowans, that’s a significant cost.” Gabbert says recent numbers show there’s still a need to have this drug available.
“Unfortunately, we experienced a 13 percent increase in the number of deaths involving opioids from 2018 to 2019. In the previous year we’d seen a 33 percent decrease,” he says. “We’ve never let up in our efforts — but it is obvious we need to continue moving forward.”
Gabbert says NARCAN is a stopgap measure. “It does not work every time, and in some cases, it takes more than one administration,” he explains. “And that’s because of the varying toxicity or the varying strengths in the substance that they are using. What we are seeing is that we have a lot of individuals who may not necessarily know what type of opioids they are using — especially when it comes to an illicit form. And because of the varying strengths — it may take more than one administration to reverse that overdose.”
Gabbert says getting a free dose of NARCAN is just one part of the plan to battle opioid abuse. “It’s not enough for us to approach the opioid epidemic simply by reversing overdoses,” Gabbert says, “we have to create opportunities for these individuals long-term. And so, some of the things that we have been trying to assist with in the state at the Department of Public Health is continuing efforts to expand the availability of medication-assisted treatment.” He says other initiatives involve working with the prison system.
“We’re working with Iowa State University to complete what we call a recovery environmental scan. To look at what other supports are out there — and what are some gaps that we need to work on fill so that these individuals do have alternatives that are going to assist them long-term,” Gabbert says. To find out more about the NARCAN program, go to naloxoneiowa.org.