Narcan in the Northland: Life After a Miracle Dose

What happens after someone is saved with the overdose reversal?

An overdose antidote called a “miracle drug,” Naloxone has saved countless lives this year alone in the Northland but many continue to die from addiction to opioids.

Several St. Louis County First Responders have stocked up on a form of Naloxone called Narcan recently, including Duluth Police in May.

What happens after someone is saved with the overdose reversal however, is complicated and community leaders say serious need of expansion.

While Naloxone is bringing many people back from death and can be wake up call that it’s time to get help, recovery is complicated.

“Narcan is definitely a band-aid, it’s not a cure,” said Maggie Kazel from Rural Aids Action Network. “It’s not going to do anything except block the opiates off the brain.”

Kazel teaches friends and loved ones of opioid addicts how to use Naloxone to save lives. She tells them if they overdose and are given Narcan, they have to follow-up with a visit to the hospital. EMS and Duluth Police also take the people that they administer Narcan to the hospital.

However, Duluth hospitals Essential St. Mary’s and St. Luke’s do not have a procedure to get overdose patients into actual treatment programs.

“I think they’ve been caught off guard, I think all America has to come of age,” said Kazel. “There are few hospitals except for urban hospitals that have.”

Kazel says there is an urgent need for a protocol.

“They need to say ‘you overdosed, let’s get you into a treatment list before you leave,’ said Kazel. “Lets send you home with Naloxone and train your family how to use it.”

Even if a overdose patient decides on their own it’s time to get help, there’s a long wait. If they don’t have insurance, they’ll have to go through the county to get a Rule 25 Assessment to determine their treatment needs.

Social Service Supervisor Greg Anderson says St. Louis County is backed up, a wait for the assessment can be up to seven days. Powerful cravings and painful withdrawals in that time mean people will often change their minds about getting treatment.

“We try to set up a support plan to keep them in a more stable or better situation until we can access treatment, sometimes it works well,” said Anderson. “Other times individuals end up falling back into old habits, and we end up starting all over again from a assessment or placement process.”

Once the assessment is complete, the wait for treatment can be even longer.

The 19 active treatment centers in St Louis County are dealing with a surge in Heroin addiction admissions, up 45 percent from 2014 to 2015. Looking for an open bed in a residential treatment center is especially challenging.

Verne Wagner is a community activist that leads a group of friends and family members of Opioid addicts.

“(When the addicts) say ‘I need help’ and you’re going, ‘Oh thank god. They need, they want help. Lets get them help,’ and you call and they say ‘Sorry but you’re three to five weeks out,” said Wagner.

Wagner says the wait is killing people.

“The obstacle is the hospital’s willingness to participate in this,” said Wagner.

St. Luke’s Hospital said in a statement “We are always looking at how we can better serve patients and the community and recognize that there is a huge community need when it comes to addiction services and some of the community initiatives we are working on are focusing how we can fill gaps when waiting for service.”

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