A hospital system on the front lines of treating heroin overdoses in hard-hit northern Kentucky will be supplied with hundreds of naloxone kits to send home with overdose patients in an effort to combat the deadly toll from the drug scourge.
An emergency nurse manager said Tuesday the overdose reversal kits will save lives and provide a starting point for conversations about treatment.
The St. Elizabeth Healthcare system will receive about 500 kits for its hospitals, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and first lady Jane Beshear announced. Northern Kentucky has been at the epicenter of the state’s struggles with heroin addiction.
Naloxone is available in injectable or nasal mist forms. The drug can quickly reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.
“This project will allow us to get this medicine into the hands and homes of the people who need it most heroin users and their families,” said Conway, the state’s Democratic nominee for governor in this year’s election.
The rescue kits will be free to overdose patients discharged from the system’s hospitals.
Also participating in the project are the University of Louisville Hospital and the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington.
The $105,000 used to purchase the kits comes from a portion of settlement funds Conway’s office secured from two pharmaceutical companies.
In 2013, 545 people were treated for heroin overdoses at five hospitals in the St. Elizabeth Healthcare system. That number grew to 745 people in 2014, and overdose cases are up 43 percent so far this year, hospital officials said.
Statewide, 230 people died from heroin overdoses in 2013, state officials said. Final numbers for heroin overdoses last year are not yet available, but the Office of Drug Control Policy estimates heroin was involved in nearly onethird of all drug overdose deaths.
Ashel Kruetzkamp, an emergency nurse manager, said the kits will give hospital workers a new avenue to talk to overdose patients about dealing with their addiction and seeking treatment.
“This is going to save lives,” she said. “We can’t put people in treatment if they’re not alive.”
Beshear, an outspoken advocate for drug treatment, said all addicts deserve a chance to “get clean.”
“Sometimes that near-death experience is just enough for that user to know they need to make a change,” she said.
Kentucky lawmakers passed a sweeping anti-heroin law earlier this year. It toughens penalties for heroin dealers of at least 60 grams and increases spending by about $10 million on substance abuse treatment programs. It allows local governments to set up needle-exchange programs where addicts can swap dirty needles for clean ones. And it would shield people who call 911 to report an overdose from being charged with drug possession.