-by Paul Dragon, CVOEO Executive Director
Why is the State limiting access to a life-saving drug to people at risk of dying? According to Seven Days, recent data shows that 210 Vermonters died of an opioid overdose last year, the first time Vermont has crossed the threshold of 200 such fatalities. It’s the second year in a row that Vermont has set a new record for opioid overdose deaths. So why with a record number of deaths would we require people at risk of overdosing to fill out an intrusive and demeaning form to access Narcan?
Narcan, the FDA-approved nasal spray form of naloxone, is a medically proven tool in the public health response to the opioid crisis. The great thing about Narcan is that it does not require medical training to administer and has no harmful effects if given to someone who is not experiencing an overdose.
Our Community Resource Team sees 60 to 100 people experiencing homelessness each day at the Community Resource Center in Burlington. At the Center we serve meals, provide housing supports and care management and provide access to computers. Our team’s training to administer Narcan last November was well under 10 minutes because of the ease and safety of its administration. However, the recent training on the State required Naloxone Overdose and Distribution Form took close to an hour. This form asks people to check their user status, the number of times they have witnessed an overdose, the number of times they have overdosed, and then to list the drugs they used the last time they overdosed. This is accompanied by socio-demographic data, several referral questions to be asked by the provider when distributing the Narcan, and a full page of questions for the provider on the users overdose experience. Both the referral questions and provider questions are supposedly optional however nowhere does it state that on this two page form.
How would any of us feel if we were required to answer these questions before accessing immediate and lifesaving care? Imagine people at risk of heart attacks being asked to fill out a similar form for aspirin. This form will likely pose a barrier to an important health intervention for people distrustful of official systems like those with substance use disorders or people who are homeless. How would a person of color, a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant worker feel about filling out such a sensitive form? This form will only reduce rather than promote Vermont’s stated goal of health and racial equity.
When our Community Resource Team used to leave Narcan on the table at the Community Resource Center it was frequently accessed by our guests, but now that it is behind the desk, where the staff are required to ask people to fill out a form, it is less frequently accessed.
It is good that Vermont health officials advise users to always carry Narcan, but now we just need to make it readily and equitably available.