The impact of the national opioid crisis is being felt in the Florida Keys, albeit at no where near the intensity as in states like New Hampshire, West Virginia or Kentucky, nor is it as bad here as it is in other parts of Florida.
Chief Don Bock of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department and the Key Largo Ambulance Corps said his people treat about one opioid overdose a month. That pales in comparison to the roughly 30 deaths per 100,000 population states like Ohio are losing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nevertheless, it’s a significant and growing problem, and Bock wants to do something about it.
The Ambulance Corps purchased 20 kits containing the drug naloxone, a nasal spray that acts as an antidote to the effects of opioid overdoses. In essence, “it takes the high away,” Bock said.
His department is offering the naloxone kits for free to family and friends of opioid abusers. The kits are sold under the brand name Narcan, made by Adapt Pharma Inc. of Radnor, Pa.
“Key Largo EMS purchased the kits. There was no grant involved,” Bock said. “Too many lives are being lost to opioids. With the Narcan program, we hope to make a difference.”
Narcan is administered via a syringe sprayed up a patient’s nose. Administering the treatment requires no special training, and it’s not harmful to anyone exposed to it who is not overdosing.
“It’s not going to hurt you if you don’t need it,” Bock said.
The kits cost about $60 each, Bock said. If enough people take advantage of the offer, the Ambulance Corps will buy more, he said.
“We have 20 so far,” he said. “We’ll see how the response goes.”
People interested in receiving a Narcan kit can visit the Ambulance Corps’ building at mile marker 98.6 in the median of U.S. 1 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Opioids are a class of drug that includes heroin and synthetic pain killers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and the particularly deadly fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opiod use has spiked nationwide, particularly in the northeastern and southern United States, according to the CDC.
Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, and in 2015, the drugs were involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 Americans.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay is a proponent of naloxone, but his deputies do not carry kits on them or in their cars. As of now, there’s no need he said, because of the quick response times of the Ambulance Corps, Monroe County Fire-Rescue, Marathon Fire Rescue and other departments.
Emergency medical services ambulances are either on the scene before deputies or within 30 seconds after their arrival, Ramsay said. “Usually, they either made it there before us, at the same time or within 30 seconds,” the sheriff said.
Another factor in Ramsay’s decision is Narcan’s susceptibility to the heat. Leaving the kits in hot cars could diminish the effectiveness of the antidote, so deputies would have to carry the syringes in their pen pockets, Ramsay said, which is not ideal.
Naloxone is also available at drug stores like CVC. In 42 states, including Florida, it’s considered a prescription drug but customers do not need an individual doctor’s prescription to buy it.
However, naloxone can’t be bought directly over the counter either, said Erin Shields Britt, director of corporate communications for CVS Health.
“In states where naloxone is available without an individual prescription, CVS pharmacists have prescriptive authority or are part of a collaborative practice agreement or standing order agreement with a prescriber in that state to dispense naloxone for patients,” Britt said in an email. “As such, the patient does not need to present an individual prescription for naloxone, but it remains a prescription medication that is dispensed at the pharmacy counter.”
CVS sells a generic naloxone intramuscular shot for about $45 and the Narcan nasal spray for around $110, Britt said.
“We have worked to increase access to naloxone, a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdose, because we believe that by expanding availability of this medication, we can save lives and give more people a chance to get the help they need for recovery,” Britt said.