In accordance with a national mandate, VA facilities distribute naloxone kits, commonly known as Narcan, to veterans identified as being at high risk for an opioid overdose. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, or blocker, that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in an emergency.
Examples of opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, heroin, and fentanyl.
In keeping with the mandate, some facilities have chosen to mail a kit to high-risk Veterans with written medication information. The team responsible for these efforts at Chillicothe VA has worked diligently to identify a plan to better meet the needs of the veterans they serve in rural Ohio.
Focus on saving lives and building trust
The team focused on two things: saving the lives of veterans and other community members and building trust with the veterans they serve. The Chillicothe team determined that the best approach was to directly contact veterans identified as being at high risk and provide them with personalized naloxone education.
They also told them how to use the drug and what additional steps to take (call 911 and provide basic care) if they were to face an overdose situation.
Tammy Dillard was browsing the list of veterans when she contacted a veteran she had known for more than a decade. Dillard is a nurse practitioner at the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic. “I had no idea what the outcome of the phone call was,” she said.
The veteran was very friendly and said he was sober and doing well. When offered the naloxone kit, the veteran happily agreed to mail it to him and was patient as Dillard went through the routine process of discussing the proper use of the naloxone, the importance of also calling 911 and initiating basic survival measures.
Surprised to learn why he wanted another kit
A few days later, Dillard received a voicemail from the veteran requesting another naloxone kit. In this line of work, one would expect a patient with a history of substance abuse to request multiple naloxone kits, but that story has a different ending.
On voicemail, he said he needed another kit because he had used his to save his neighbor’s life. “He looked so proud as he said, ‘Just like we talked about. I did CPR and called 911,” Dillard said.
When the team decided on the process they would use to contact veterans about naloxone kits, they knew it would take more time and effort, but felt it was the best way to ensure safety of its veterans and the community. Chillicothe’s naloxone distribution program has been very successful, achieving more than double the national distribution goal.
“The work we are doing is so important and it’s a great example of how it has helped us meet the need of a veteran who in turn was able to save someone’s life through this intervention” , said Dr. Lindsay DeMuth, Addiction Recovery Services. coordinator. “This emphasizes the importance of discussing critical clinical information so we know veterans have the knowledge and resources they need to help themselves. This story also highlights the importance of a non-judgmental, open and trusting relationship with a supplier. It’s something that used to be so stigmatizing, but now it’s something he’s comfortable talking about and asking for extra help.
Thanks to the team for doing more than just going with the flow and putting veterans first.