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Pinellas provides overdose kits to the public

Mark Parker



Any person over 18 can now request the nasal spray healthcare providers believe can reduce thousands of substance abuse deaths. Photos provided.

To combat a record-breaking number of deaths, health officials are now offering free medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses to any local adult.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County (DOH-Pinellas) recently announced it joined a statewide initiative to increase access to naloxone – the generic version of Narcan. Any person over 18 can now request the nasal spray healthcare providers believe can reduce thousands of substance abuse deaths.

The initiative follows the U.S. losing 103,572 people to drug overdoses from January 2021 to January 2022, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Florida set a new record with 7,983 deaths during the same period.

More than one person in Pinellas County died every 14 hours from an opioid-related overdose last year, according to the District Six Medical Examiner’s Office.

“The opioid epidemic is not getting any better,” said Marianne Dean, public health services manager for DOH-Pinellas. “It’s only getting worse.”

A graphic showing the increase in local overdose deaths.

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid overdoses by restoring breathing and consciousness within minutes. A friend, family member or bystander can administer the drug via a nasal spray.

The free kits also include an informational booklet and resources for referrals and substance abuse interventions via a QR code. People requesting naloxone from DOH-Pinellas should be over 18 years old, at risk of experiencing an opioid overdose, a caregiver or someone likely to witness an overdose.

However, Dean said that as long as someone looks like they are at least 18, the health department provides the kits with “no questions asked.”

“Allowing people to have access to naloxone allows a person to have that second chance,” she said. “So, the future isn’t where it’s written for them.”

Marianne Dean, public health services manager for DOH-Pinellas.

People outside of typical illicit drug users, noted Dean, can also benefit from increased access to the drug. She relayed a story of an elderly woman with dementia who recently overdosed on prescribed medication and said without naloxone, “her outcome could have been much different.”

While a provided copy of the 2022-23 Opioid Use Prevention Toolkit states that the national dispensing rate fell to its lowest point in 15 years in 2020, those numbers vary significantly in certain areas. It noted that doctors in 3.6% of U.S. counties prescribed enough opioids for every resident to have one.

Despite the drop, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that doctors still prescribed 43.3 prescriptions for every 100 Americans in 2020 – or over 142 million.

Naloxone quickly counters the effects of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, methadone and Demerol and naturally derived opiates such as heroin and morphine. According to the Prevention Toolkit, those drugs cause addiction by attaching to specialized opioid receptors in the brain. That triggers feelings of reward, relaxation and extreme happiness.

Misuse causes hypoxia, where not enough oxygen reaches the brain. That can cause irreversible brain damage, coma and death.

Fentanyl, prescribed to treat severe pain, typically after surgeries, is especially problematic. A synthetic opioid, it’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanil, a fentanyl-related substance, is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. An amount roughly the same size as five to seven grains of table salt is enough to cause respiratory depression or death.

Dean explained that a person cannot self-administer naloxone.

“You can’t go shoot up a little bit of heroin or accidentally take fentanyl,” explained Dean. “And then say, ‘oh, I’m experiencing an overdose; let me walk over to my cabinet and get my naloxone.’ That doesn’t happen.

“By the time you realize you’re overdosing, you overdosed. There’s no getting your naloxone.”

A graphic showing accidental overdoses in Pinellas.

She added that the kits are for first responders, which can include anyone likely to witness an overdose. Florida allows third-party access to naloxone, and Dean said there is no limit to how many kits someone can receive.

A study cited by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that a layperson administering naloxone reverses 75-100% of overdoses. Dean said the health department’s goal with the kits is to provide people with enough usage and prevention information, but not so much that they become overwhelmed.

Dean said naloxone is “inert,” and serious side effects – including allergic reactions – are extremely rare.

While national and state programs provide funding, Dean is well aware of the controversy surrounding the provision of free medication to substance abusers, but not for people suffering from other ailments, like diabetes.

However, she said the “if I can’t have it, you can’t have it” mentality is unfair. Theoretically, she said people could make similar arguments about diabetics who refuse to change their diets, increasing the need for medical care.

“A lot of these individuals don’t have anywhere to go,” said Dean. “They need that little bit of care. Addiction, unfortunately, is all about reoccurrence. These people are going to fall off the wagon, and there needs to be a catch-all to help them get back on.”

For more information on substance abuse programs offered by the DOH-Pinellas, visit the website here.

For more information and statistics on the opioid epidemic in Pinellas County, visit the website here.


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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Andrea N Winning

    November 16, 2022at8:18 am

    Seriously concerned about teenagers taking a drug and not knowing it contained Fentanyl and overdosing; it happened last year at a high school. The article did not contain important information regarding how one could attain a Naloxone kit that could save a life. Here are the details:

    Here’s how you can get free Naloxone (Narcan) nasal spray kits from the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas and Citrus Counties.

    Persons requesting a kit from DOH-Pinellas must meet the following eligibility:

    Must be 18 years old or older
    Individuals at risk of experiencing an opioid overdose
    Caregivers who may witness an opioid overdose or others likely to experience or witness an opioid overdose.

    Naloxone kits are available at the following locations 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday:

    St. Petersburg – 205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg
    Pinellas Park – 6350 76th Ave. N., Pinellas Park
    Mid County – 8751 Ulmerton Rd., Largo
    Clearwater – 310 N. Myrtle Ave., Clearwater
    Tarpon Springs – 301 S. Disston Ave., Tarpon Springs (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday only)
    Call 727-824-6900 for more information on naloxone in Pinellas County.

    Naloxone is available to people who use drugs, people with a history of drug use, others at risk of experiencing an overdose, friends, family members, and others who may witness an overdose. Increasing access to naloxone is a key component in battling the opioid epidemic. Naloxone is a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, restoring breathing and consciousness within minutes of being administered to a person who has overdosed. Naloxone can be administered by a bystander (non-healthcare professional) before emergency medical assistance becomes available, but it is not intended to substitute for professional medical care.
    Individuals should call 911 immediately when an opioid overdose is suspected, before administering Naloxone.

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