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Overdose prevention kits handed out to opioid drug users

In Hawaii, more people now die from a drug overdose than a car crash.

While helping people to kick the habit is still a major part in the fight against drugs, there's a new approach to preventing deaths from ODing.

On Monday, overdose prevention rescue kits were handed out at Harris United Methodist Church on S. Vineyard Blvd. The kits contain two doses of the opioid blocker Naloxone, two syringes, and information on how to use the kit.

The health outreach group The CHOW Project had 50 of the kits to give to invited drug users in the community who have the highest risk of overdose.

Dr. Josh Green, a state senator representing the Kona/Kau district, helped pass a law that allowed groups to distribute them. The law creates immunity for health care professionals and pharmacists who prescribe, dispense, distribute or administer overdose reversal medication such as Naloxone. It also authorizes police, firefighters, lifeguards, all emergency medical technicians, family and friends to administer this medication to anyone experiencing an opioid-related drug overdose.

Green thinks the kits will help. "It got so bad with drug addiction and drug overdose in our country, but our state thought it became necessary to give the community the capacity to help save people."

Green says drug addiction to opioids such as pain killers and heroin has become one of the biggest public health crises in Hawaii. "Even in the last two years, we saw that drug overdose fatalities now exceed the number of fatalities from automobile accidents." In 2015, there were 158 deaths from drug poisonings/overdoses in Hawaii, with a total of 1,523 over the past decade.

While these kits are not the answer to stop drug addiction, Green says they will save hundreds of lives, "so having this drug available to save someone's life and get them through to care at Queen's or any of our community hospitals is the goal. I would never imagine that we would get to a place where we can intervene as a society against overdose. Before, it always had to be done at the hospital."

Naloxone is not something that can be used to get high and, in fact, it counters the effects of the overdose. Naloxone is a non-narcotic opioid antagonist used to blocks opioids such as fentanyl, heroin and oxycontin. When administered during an overdose, Naloxone blocks the effects of the drug(s) and restores breathing within 3 minutes. More than 10,000 lives have been saved in the U.S. through the use of Naloxone in community settings.

Those who are on the verge of overdosing cannot administer the drug themselves. CHOW Project executive director Heather Lusk, executive director said "what we are doing is hoping that these folks will share it with their loved ones and also try to reach out through other networks to the loved ones struggling with addiction so that they can learn about it, too."

The CHOW Project is a collaborative effort between the University Health Partners of Hawaii and the John A. Burns School of Medicine. For more information, visit www.chowproject.org.

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