Save lives from opioid overdose by funding peer-based naloxone distribution programs
Created by The Opioid Crisis
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The Opioid Crisis Response Fund (OCRF) is a start-up non-profit fund with the mission to save as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible, from fatal opiate-related overdoses. OCRF raises money, and then grants that money out to the unfunded overdose prevention opportunities, nationwide, with the greatest unmet life-saving potential. Since Sept 2018, we have recorded 675 lives saved across 6 states through our funding. OCRF actively funds proven life-saving programs that, because of political risk, government agencies have been hesitant to support.
About The Opioid Crisis
The US opioid overdose epidemic is the worst public health disaster of our lifetimes, not excluding the ‘80s-‘90s AIDS Epidemic. Driven by opioid overdoses, aggregate US life-expectancy has declined for the past three years in a row. The last time aggregate US life-expectancy declined for three years in a row was 100 years ago, during the Spanish Influenza. During 2016-17, more Americans died from opioid overdose than during the entire 20 years of the 1955-75 Vietnam conflict.
The logical first step to saving as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible, is to get the intervention that works fastest to the people who are most likely to overdose. This means getting naloxone to opioid-dependent individuals through the service providers they regularly use, especially syringe-access programs (SAPs).
In practice, harm reduction organizations, particularly SAPs, tend to be the only organizations in opioid-impacted communities that actively seek out ongoing and constructive relationships with people who use drugs, recent overdose survivors, and others at highest risk for a fatal overdose. It is common for people who are opioid-dependent to feel unwelcome in hospitals, primary care clinics, and community health facilities…and to come to rely on the local SAP as their primary connection to health and social services across the community, because it is the only place left where they are still treated with compassion.
It costs about $10 to save a life through SAP-facilitated naloxone distribution and, nationally, about 93% of overdose survivors are still alive one year later. Further, it is common for SAPs to assist 20%-30% of their clients with entering drug & alcohol treatment every year.
Nevertheless, SAP-facilitated naloxone distribution receives almost no government funding or support. This is because—despite being the cheapest, fastest, and easiest way to save lives this week from the Opioid Epidemic—SAPs (aka “needle exchanges”) are a political third-rail.
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Right now, instead of receiving funding priority appropriate to its life-saving potential, SAP-facilitated naloxone distribution is mainly carried out by volunteer organizations, staffed by people in recovery and parents of overdose victims, who are raising money $300 at-a-time through yard sales.
Kim Brown of Davenport, Iowa (who lost her son to an overdose in 2011) is one of the true heroes on the front-line of the Opioid Epidemic. Her story of starting up the first naloxone distribution effort in the entire state of Iowa illustrates the adversity being faced by people across the US who have been personally impacted by the Opioid Epidemic, and who are trying to turn their energy toward saving lives in their own communities. You can read Kim’s story in her OCRF grantee profile.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides naloxone supply grants to state public health and safety agencies. These grant programs are called the First Responder Training Grants, and account for $48 million of Federal funding to combat the Epidemic.
The problem is, the traditional first responders (police, fire, EMS) that receive these grants are not the actual first-responders to the vast majority of overdoses…other drug users are. During 2017, clients of The D.O.P.E. project (an SAP in San Francisco) used naloxone to reverse over 1,250 overdoses. The San Francisco Police reported using naloxone just 27 times during the same period.
Lobbyists hired for this issue would focus on increasing the number of federal dollars spent supporting the naloxone distribution programs that can actually save the most lives from opioid overdose.