Thundermist Health Center, which operates within the communities of West Warwick, Woonsocket and throughout South County, is becoming the first health care facility to train all of its employees in administering the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, also known as Narcan.
The five training sessions are being given to all of Thundermist’s 520 employees and all employees will be given the choice of being provided the drug at no cost, in an effort to increase the amount of the life saving drug in the state to potentially save people from overdosing throughout the state.
“The more that’s out there, the more likely it is that we’re going to help save someone’s life,” said Chris Durigan, clinical pharmacist for Thundermist, during one of the training sessions given to about 100 employees at the West Warwick facility on Friday. “Say one of our employees happens to come across somebody who has overdosed – they have Narcan with them and they’re able to administer it. We have had employees report that they’ve witnessed it before but didn’t have anything and felt pretty helpless without it.”
Thundermist has committed between $14,000 and $30,000 to provide Narcan to all employees, which encompasses $35 per dose and about $9,000 in total for the training sessions. They have also spent about $10,000 to supply themselves with more Narcan that is available to people who visit the center and request it.
“Our communities are really experiencing an overdose crisis…but also the whole state and the whole country so we really wanted to make an effort to try and reduce overdoses in our communities by not only providing Naloxone to our employees but also to our patients and providing medication-assisted treatment to help with recovery for our patients as well,” Durigan said.
Narcan works as an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning it reverses the effects of opioids and can physically bring somebody out of an active overdose quickly. It can be administered intravenously through a shot or sprayed through a nasal aerosol. Employees as Thundermist are trained in both means of delivery, and the Narcan kits come equipped with means to utilize either.
Narcan has gained notoriety in recent years as the opioid epidemic has increased in range and severity across the country. In Rhode Island, opioid overdose fatalities have risen from 242 in 2014, to 290 in 2015, to 336 in 2016 and there have been 257 in the first 10 months of 2017, according to a report given by Michelle McKenzie, who led the training event and is a member of Governor Gina Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.
While the drug has proven to be efficient in saving peoples’ lives, some have criticized the concept of spending money saving people who have put themselves into a situation where they will potentially withdraw back into the same behavior and possibly overdose again.
Durigan does not agree with this take.
“Not only have there been studies that have disproved that theory but also, if you think about it this is a mental illness just like anything else,” he said. “So if we choose not to reduce the harm associated with a mental illness then we’re really doing a disservice to our patients. So, while Narcan is not the answer to recovery, it helps keep people alive long enough to enter recovery and make their total recovery with therapy and medical assisted treatments as well.”
Durigan said that people who need help conquering addiction should be encouraged to take the first step and call to inquire about the services offered at facilities such as Thundermist.
“Even if they just want to just come in and see more about the program and see if it’s right for them,” he said. “Calling is taking that first step and it’s as easy as that.”
The increased prevalence of Narcan, which is now carried by first responders in cities across the country, should be beneficial towards reducing the number of overdose deaths, the leading cause of accidental death in Rhode Island. Hopefully, McKenzie said during her session, the number of overdose deaths – which declined for the first time in a decade as of the 2017 data’s current numbers – will continue to drop.
McKenzie said that changes in legislation, including not prosecuting individuals who call help for someone overdosing who also happen to be in possession of illegal narcotics, along with providing medical-assisted treatment to those entering prison with opioid dependence have helped dramatically. The latter change has resulted in a 61 percent decrease in overdose deaths in people released from prison, she said.
Thundermist has cared for 4,996 patients with a substance abuse disorder last year, and had a total of 15,116 visits from people seeking help for a substance abuse disorder in 2017, according to statistics provided by Amanda Barney, associate vice president of communications and development for Thundermist.
“Our communities are in a crisis,” said Jeanne LaChance, president and CEO of Thundermist. “Thundermist recognizes our responsibility to make an impact inside and outside of the exam room. Increasing the availability of naloxone, and training individuals on appropriate administration, will help save lives.”