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LINCOLN – Following a wave of fentanyl-laced overdoses in Lincoln, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and its Divisions of Public Health and Behavioral Health continue to raise awareness, increase access to lifesaving naloxone, and save lives - especially during Opioid Overdose Awareness Week, to be held August 25-31.
Opioid overdose deaths are a growing concern in Nebraska. In 2019, 168 people died of a drug overdose and at least 64 of those deaths were opioid related. Nebraska's drug overdose death rate per 100,000 people has increased from 3.6 in 2004 to 8.68 in 2019. The Lincoln Police Department (LPD) reports that as of August 19, it has responded to 50 overdose cases within the past 30 days. About half of those cases required officers to administer the life-saving drug naloxone. Four of the people died.
LPD reports that the overdose spike is a significant increase from previous years. LPD documented an increase from 2019 to 2020 in fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses. In that same time, there was also an increase in the number of opioid-related deaths and the number of fentanyl-related deaths. Ten opioid-related deaths were documented by LPD in 2019; three were fentanyl related. Twenty opioid-related deaths were documented by LPD in 2020; 13 were fentanyl related.
Naloxone, a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, is an opioid antagonist. This means that it attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose. However, naloxone has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system. Examples of opioids include heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine.
“Expanding the availability of naloxone to friends, family and bystanders will increase the likelihood that it will be administered in a timely manner, and prevent death from an opioid overdose," said Dr. Janine Fromm, MD, executive medical officer of Nebraska DHHS, who issued the standing order allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone to friends, families, and bystanders.
The Division of Behavioral Health offers programs supplying naloxone kits at no charge to the consumer or pharmacy, often in partnership with the Nebraska Pharmacists Association. 2,476 free naloxone kits have been distributed so far in 2021 via Regional Behavioral Health Authorities. https://dhhs.ne.gov/Behavioral%20Health%20Documents/NaloxoneMap.pdf
Neb. Rev. Stat §28-470 provides protection from administrative action or criminal prosecution when a pharmacist dispenses naloxone under the following limited circumstances:
Also, Nebraska's Good Samaritan law is an important harm-reduction tool in the context of the ongoing opioid crisis. Good Samaritan laws are laws that grant immunity for low-level drug crimes to persons having an overdose and bystanders who call 911 during overdose emergencies.
Signs and symptoms of opioid-related overdose:
Many Nebraska pharmacies offer ways to dispose of unwanted medications every day. Locations can be found on the Nebraska MEDS Coalition's website, https://www.nebraskameds.org. Nebraska MEDS is a coalition of state and community partners dedicated to educating residents about the safe disposal of prescription and over-the-counter medications. In addition to educational work, the coalition supports disposal programs that allow residents to dispose of unused and leftover medications.
Sites will accept prescription medication (be sure to remove identifying patient labeling); over-the-counter medication; creams, lotions, or ointments; liquid medication less than four ounces; pet medication, and all of the above in pill, tablet, and capsule form. The drug disposal program does not accept needles, syringes, or lancets; rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide; home-based care or medical equipment supplies; liquid medication greater than four ounces, or thermometers.
Help is available. If you or a loved one need assistance, please reach out to: