CLARK COUNTY — The use of naloxone to treat overdoses has increased significantly throughout the state, but it has almost doubled in Clark County in recent months.
According to a graphic shared during a state news briefing Wednesday, there has been a 35% statewide increase in naloxone use from last year, and in Clark County, there was a 95.83% increase.
“We’ve never seen naloxone distribution like this before,” said Jennifer Sullivan, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
Sullivan announced at the news briefing that more naloxone was used in April 2020 than any other month in the state’s history. Naloxone, or Narcan, is used to quickly block the effects of opioid overdoses, and it was used 1,306 times in Indiana in April.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said the county is facing the highest rate of opioid overdoses since February 2017. The health department reported that 37 overdoses were treated in the ER in April, including 23 that were specifically for heroin, according to a previous coverage by the News and Tribune. In February 2017, there were 25 heroin overdoses reported.
The county has mainly been seeing an increase in the use of heroin and fentanyl, Yazel said.
Data from the Clark County 911 Center shows significant increases in calls mentioning overdoses and use of Narcan over the past couple of months compared to last year, according to Garry Pavey with technical services.
From March to May in 2019, the 911 center received calls of 55 overdose incidents, and Narcan was used in 18 of those incidents. During the same time period in 2020, there were 77 overdose incidents reported, and Narcan was used in 52 of those incidents.
There are many factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic that could relate to this increase, Yazel said.
“There are just so many factors — loss of daily structure, social isolation, economic hardship,” he said. “A lot of people lost their jobs or have maybe experienced housing instability or food instability — things like that.”
It could also be a difficult time for people in recovery from drug addiction, since many services are group-oriented but might now be limited due to social distancing, he said.
“All the factors made us concerned that this was going to be a scenario that we saw, and the numbers kind of verified that,” Yazel said.
Over the past four to five weeks, Jeffersonville Fire Sgt. Justin Ames has noticed an increase in calls involving unresponsive individuals, and as a result, there has been increased use of naloxone in case the individual is experiencing an overdose.
“There’s a slight spike now, but it doesn’t compare to the amount of calls we were getting a couple years ago,” he said.
Clarksville Fire Chief Brandon Skaggs said there seems to be more calls related to opioid overdoses over the past month.
“I think so many things have been focused on the COVID-19 response that other areas are not overlooked necessarily, but many are not looked upon as closely,” he said. “As far as the mental health aspect of the pandemic, I don’t know if it’s affecting people who use opioids in a different way, but it’s definitely an issue. Maybe there is some connection there, but I’m not sure.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, it can be more difficult to address ongoing issues such as addiction, according to Yazel.
“First and foremost, we just need to, as soon as we can, consider these recovery services essential services, which they are and get as much as we can back up and running,” he said. “I do think what we have in place worked, it’s just a matter of their extenuating circumstances that we couldn’t do it to their full potential.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb and the FSSA recently announced the state will fund almost $1 million for distribution of naloxone. The nonprofit Overdose Lifeline, Inc. will distribute 25,000 doses of naloxone to those likely to be first on the scene of an overdose, including first responders, families and caregivers.
Requests for the naloxone are available at www.overdoselifeline.org/2020-indiana-naloxone-request.
Yazel is encouraged to see the state’s support for increased naloxone distribution. The health department replenished its supply last week, and there should be access to additional naloxone if needed, he said.
“That’s always been a thing of [the health department] – we want to make sure that anybody who needs it has the low barrier ability to get trained and to administer it,” he said.