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Banner Phoenix launches new program to combat opioid overdoses

(Courtesy photo/Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix)

PHOENIX — Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix has launched a new program that aims to combat the opioid epidemic by giving at-risk patients a medication to take home that rapidly reverses the life-threatening effects of an overdose.

The emergency department provides the medicine – known as Naloxone – without a prescription to a caretaker, friend or loved one of a patient who has been admitted for a drug overdose as part of the program “Banner University LINK.”

“The goal of it is to get Naloxone kits to our patients who are high risk for an opioid overdose and then try to get them connected to our community partners and to detox centers and to our addiction treatment centers once they leave the ER,” Dr. Aneesh Narang, assistant medical director for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Banner – University in Phoenix, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“Essentially initiate a treatment plan for them.”

The kits will include the Naloxone nasal spray, according to a press release, which almost immediately reverses the decreased respiration and heart rate that are often the life-threatening effects of opioids during an overdose.

While the reversal provided by the medicine is short, it allows caretakers enough time to get the person the medical care needed to save their life.

Narang said a nurse, physician or social worker will show the patient and their family or friend how to use the Naloxone kit and when to use it.

The program, the first of its kind in Arizona, is attempting to make recovery from an opioid addiction easier.

There have been more than 2,000 reported opioid overdoses in Maricopa County in the last six months alone, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Since June 2017, more than 64,300 deaths in Arizona were attributed to opioid overdoses.

“This is a chronic disease, just like diabetes and cardiovascular disease and cancer that we take care of,” Narang said.

“Unfortunately, this is a chronic disease that is very difficult for patients and we need to do this to save lives, it’s as simple as that.”

Narang said the path to recovery from an opioid use disorder is not linear.

“There’s going to be a lot of setbacks, unfortunately, and this is one easy way to target harm reduction,” Narang said.

“One key caveat to this for all of us is to understand that opioid use disorder is a chronic illness, it’s not a moral failing. We need to do everything we can with the tools we have to help patients.”

He stressed the importance of actually handing the kits to patients, their family or friends with no questions asked as less than 2% of patients end up getting the prescriptions filled themselves.

Narang said the Arizona Department of Health Services is providing the Naloxone kits to Banner, and while the opioid overdose numbers have been going in the wrong direction recently, he does not foresee a shortage in kits.

The program is also available at Banner’s campus in Tucson.

Narang said similar programs have witnessed success in others cities and he hopes the program is implemented at every hospital in Arizona.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report.

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