Express-News: Training on opioid antidote expanding in S.A.

By Krista Torralva, Express-News

A mother and her newborn baby survived heroin addiction with the help of Dr. Lisa Cleveland, assistant professor at UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing.

The mother now is in a recovery program, one of about 10 women who have worked with Bexar County’s Joint Opioid Task Force after they got help weaning their babies off the drug.

Their experiences help inform the collaborative, Cleveland said. The task force learned that heroin users easily can die of an overdose while a friend or family member watches, helplessly calling 911.

“One of our moms at our last meeting said her husband’s best friend died last week. He had Narcan in his car but his mom didn’t know how to use it,” Cleveland said.

Narcan is a brand name for naloxene, an anti-overdose medication that can be injected or given as a nasal spray. As San Antonio grapples with a heroin addiction epidemic, about 80 medical providers and police officers were trained Thursday on how to administer it at the UT Health San Antonio campus in the Medical Center area.

They were the first Bexar County first responders to be trained under two grants totaling more than $4 million from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission received in April by UT Health’s School of Nursing.

The money also will go toward emergency medical responders’ followup visits with survivors of overdoses.

The Fire Department’s emergency medical services responders already are trained in using Narcan and administered the antidote to 2,354 patients last year. It works to reverse the affect of opioids by essentially shutting off the brain’s opioid receptors.

While other states have declared opioid crises, Texas, with 2,831 drug fatalities in 2017, still had a death rate per 100,000 population that puts it in the bottom three of all 50 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

But only nine Texas counties, including Bexar, collect data compatible with the center’s statistics, which makes the statewide portrayal questionable, said Mark Kinzly and Charles Thibodeaux of the Texas Overdose and Naloxone Initiative in Austin, who conducted Thursday’s training.

Bexar County reported a fatality rate of 5.7 overdoses per 100,000 residents in 2015.

Gov. Greg Abbott authorized law enforcement officers to be equipped with Narcan when he signed Senate Bill 1462 in 2015. The law also allowed for pharmacies to sell naloxene without a prescription, which can give friends and family who have the antidote on hand a lifesaving tool while emergency medical services are on their way.

In Austin, a man helped save a friend’s life when he went to the nearby Oxford House, a residential recovery home, because he knew they kept naloxone there, Kinzly said.

With the help of the grants, Cleveland is organizing more training sessions this year with other agencies, including the San Antonio Police Department. The second year of the grants provides for training nontraditional first responders — friends and family.

“I think that’s going to make a huge difference in San Antonio once we have it in the hands of people who are drug users and people who live with them,” Cleveland said.

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