- Associated Press - Friday, September 8, 2017

Alabama now has a new tool to help fight the opioid epidemic.

A grant is providing 1,200 doses of the lifesaving antidote naloxone for first responders statewide to help prevent opioid overdose deaths, Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said at a news conference Friday in Montgomery.

“We are taking a step in the right direction to address the opioid epidemic in Alabama,” Harris said.

More than 700 people died in Alabama due to heroin or other opioid drug overdoses in 2015, the most current statistics available. The grant is paying for 600 kits, each holding two doses and a trainer designed to teach someone how to administer the drug. Naloxone allows for the temporary reversal of an overdose, giving enough time for emergency medical personnel to arrive.

“The kits won’t solve the opioid problem but will provide life-saving medications if necessary,” said Jamey Durham, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Health. “It’s a win-win across the board.”

The distribution was made possible through a joint effort with Kaléo Pharma, the Alabama District Attorneys Association, the Office of Prosecution Services, a partnership between Air University and Harvard University and the Alabama Department of Public Health. First responders, including law enforcement, will get the kits, Durham said.

“Alabama is very rural and sometimes the first responder is a police officer or sheriff’s deputy,” he said. “If there are signs of a suspected overdose, medicine bottles or drug paraphernalia for example, the responder can use the naloxone injector. If the person doesn’t recover in four to five minutes, we know it wasn’t an overdose and the drug won’t harm them.”

Durham said the health department will work with the district attorneys’ association to determine which areas are opioid hotspots or trending toward heavy use, and kits will be sent to those areas.

“There is a true need for it,” Durham said. “It’s a great life-saving medication that we can put in the hands of people on the scene. It can really make a difference.”

The distribution will begin next week.

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