In 2017, Ohio had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the nation with 4,293 reported deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Now, the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State is offering a free tool to help combat the crisis. 

The medical center partnered with Project Death Avoided With Naloxone to bring free Naloxone, or Narcan, kits to the hospital. The kits contain two Naloxone nasal sprays that can treat overdoses and are available at Ohio State East and James Cancer Hospital outpatient pharmacies. A prescription is not required. 

Emily Kauffman, emergency medicine physician at the medical center, said Narcan is more important now than ever. 

“The surgeon general says in terms of carrying any medication with you, Naloxone is probably the most important,” Kauffman said. “More likely than not, unfortunately, people will encounter someone experiencing an overdose.”

The project began in 2012 and now is present in almost every county in the state, Kauffman said. The medical center was recently awarded a grant from the Ohio Department of Health to support Narcan distribution across its hospitals and in the community. 

Project DAWN’s goal is to put Narcan in the hands of people at the greatest risk of having an opioid-use disorder or those using heroin or fentanyl, Kauffman said. 

The project started with 1,250 kits total, Amanda Hafford, associate director of the pharmacy at the medical center, said. The medical center received kits in early November. 

There is not a set restriction, so the hospital can request more kits as people pick them up, and Hafford said the limit is not one per customer. 

“People can get more than one kit if they used it already and can come back to get another,” she said. 

Kauffman said some signs of overdosing are shallow breathing, gurgling respirations, blue lips, a pale skin color and a possible pulse. The person overdosing can’t administer a kit to themselves, so the project targets friends, family and people in the community. 

“In the breathing center of the brain, it binds to a receptor. When it binds to the receptor, it can cause euphoria and great pleasure,” Kauffman said. “That can actually stop the breathing center in the brain, unless you have Naloxone, which comes in and blocks the opioid to let the breathing center breathe again.”

She said if both nasal sprays are used without a response, then something else may be going on. And even if the Narcan works, Hafford said the recommendation is still to call 911. 

Narcan is not harmful if given to someone who isn’t experiencing an overdose, Kauffman said, and people are protected by the Good Samaritan law when administering the medicine, which provides immunity for minor drug possession, amounts to be considered a misdemeanor or fifth-degree felony, and to people who seek medical help for themselves or another person, according to the College of Social Work’s website.  

At the pharmacy, people will fill out paperwork, get educational papers, and participate in a short training session on how to use the product and the kit, Kauffman said. 

Though access to Narcan seems simple, Hafford said there is still apprehension due to stigma. 

“Some people are hesitant to get it because they don’t want their name attached to a drug that’s used for opioids,” Hafford said. “We do have to keep track of who gets a kit, but those names stay within the pharmacy.”

Jeremy Peters, retail pharmacist lead at the James, said kits can be picked up any time they are open.  

Pharmacy hours at the James on weekdays are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weekends are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ohio State East’s pharmacy is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on weekends. 

Hafford said that when arriving to the hospital, people can stop at the desk in the lobby, and someone can direct or escort them to the pharmacy.