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Educating Prescribers About Naloxone to Prevent Opioid Deaths

A pilot project aims to prevent prescription painkiller overdoses by educating prescribers about naloxone — a drug that counters the effects of opioids and saves lives.

The medication naloxone prevents overdose deaths from prescription opioids, such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin. Prescription opioids now cause more deaths than cocaine, heroin, and all other illicit street drugs combined. Most overdose deaths are from people using their own medications, which were prescribed by their own doctors.

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids, which can cause a person to lose consciousness and stop breathing. This drug can be administered by a lay person through a nasal spray or an injection. Naloxone is listed as a World Health Organization essential medicine — a basic necessity in any health system around the world — because of its ability to reverse the effect of accidental or deliberate overdoses.

Despite the availability of naloxone and its proven effectiveness, the drug is rarely prescribed. Current Medi-Cal data show that the San Francisco Public Health system is the only significant naloxone prescriber in the state, and that the system's prescribing rate increased only after a campaign of intensive on-site education.

To increase prescriber knowledge of naloxone, and to increase its use to prevent opioid-related deaths, CHCF is working with Phillip Coffin, MD, director of substance use research in the Center for Public Health Research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), to pilot an on-site education program for private physicians who are high-volume opioid prescribers. A nurse practitioner will visit participating physicians and review best practices and educational materials.

An evaluation of this pilot will be conducted and results will be available in 2016, to assess the potential of spreading this approach across the state.

For more information, see the video Reach for Me: Fighting to End the American Drug Overdose Epidemic through the External Link below or view the pamphlets for providers and patients under Document Downloads.

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