Vermont: Naloxone handouts decline

Published: 1/16/2022 6:46:56 PM
Modified: 1/16/2022 6:45:51 PM

Distribution of naloxone, the opioid-overdose antidote, naloxone at community sites in Vermont during the first year of the pandemic, a recent state report shows.

Until then, naloxone distribution had increased steadily since 2014, according to the report.

Distribution sites around Vermont handed out 6,691 naloxone kits in 2020 — 20% fewer than the previous year’s 8,381 kits.

The number of recipients also decreased by more than a third, from 2,170 people in 2019 to 1,337 in 2020, according to a Dec. 17 data brief from the Vermont Department of Health.

The naloxone kits have been distributed to opioid users, and to their family members and friends, by community-based organizations involved in the state’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Reversal Project.

The program was established in 2013. The following year, community sites gave out 1,447 naloxone kits to 1,029 clients.

Popularly known by the brand name Narcan, naloxone has been used to rapidly reverse overdoses on opioids such as narcotic medication, fentanyl and heroin. Naloxone comes as either a nasal spray or injected into the muscle.

The naloxone kit distribution rose year after year, reaching a peak of 8,381 kits in 2019. It then dropped by nearly 1,700 kits the year that the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The report said the decrease was “likely due to many distribution sites being closed to in-person operations because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

At the same time, said health department spokesperson Ben Truman, local community organizations looked for other ways to get naloxone into the hands of people who needed the medication.

He said the December data brief does not include naloxone given out by the state’s other community partners, such as substance abuse recovery centers and first responders.

For instance, Truman said, from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, at least 8,000 naloxone kits were distributed by community organizations in addition to the kits from distribution sites.

In Bennington, recovery coaches with the town’s Turning Point Center were seen knocking on doors at motels and apartment buildings to distribute “harm reduction kits,” which included naloxone nasal sprays.

“Our partners shifted their work to best meet Vermonters where they were, both physically, culturally, and to accommodate any needs they were experiencing,” Truman said. “Without these efforts, we would have lost many more Vermonters due to overdose.”

The year 2020 saw 157 Vermonters die from an opioid overdose — the highest number the state has logged since comparative records were set up in 2009. Partial numbers from 2021 suggest that last year’s fatal overdoses are likely to set another record.

Meanwhile, community sites’ naloxone distribution for the first nine months of 2021 have already surpassed that of 2020, according to the health department brief. From January to September 2021, they handed out 7,718 kits to 1,403 people.

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