A new effort in St. Louis County will make the overdose-reversing antidote naloxone more readily available to the public, in hopes of reducing the high number of opioid overdose deaths in Missouri’s largest county.
Democratic County Executive Sam Page announced details of a program that will make naloxone available free of charge to community groups and the public during regular business hours at the county’s John C. Murphy Health Center in Berkeley.
County officials said the location was chosen because of its location in north St. Louis County, the area hit hardest by the epidemic.
U.S. health officials believe the increasing availability of naloxone, commonly known under the brand name Narcan, is partly responsible for the first drop in overdose deaths in nearly 30 years. Health officials said in August that overdose deaths dropped to about 68,000 nationwide in 2018, down from more than 70,000 a year earlier. At the same time, naloxone prescriptions doubled.
But Missouri was among the states where overdose deaths continued to rise. Missouri saw 1,406 deaths in 2017 and 1,635 in 2018. St. Louis County had 307 opioid-related deaths in 2018, up from 236 in 2017.
About two-thirds of overdose deaths nationwide involve an opioid, a class of drugs that includes heroin, synthetics such as fentanyl and painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Naloxone reverses opioid overdoses by restoring breathing and bringing someone back to consciousness. It’s been around for nearly 50 years, but the availability of an easier-to-use nasal spray version, approved in 2015, has made it so useful as a lifesaving measure that many cities and states have standing orders that allow pharmacies to give it out without a doctor’s prescription.
St. Louis County also has led an effort to track statewide prescriptions of opioids because Missouri is the only state without a monitoring system. The county administers a program that now includes 75 jurisdictions, covering roughly 94 percent of the state’s health care providers.