Teams distribute more than 2,000 naloxone kits across Kanawha County on Save A Life Day
Standing In the hallway of a Charleston church, Lindsay Acree patiently talks a man through the signs of an opioid overdose, and tells him how to administer a nasal spray version of naloxone, a drug that reverses them.
Not far from them are nearly a dozen people who have come to a drop-in program at the church — Bream Memorial Presbyterian Church — to have showers and do their laundry, among other services the program offers.
“Make sure you call 911; it’s how you’re protected by law,” Acree tells the man.
“Well, what if they show up and the person’s already breathing normally?” he asks. “Will they think we’re wasting time?”
“No, if they’re breathing normally, [paramedics will] offer to take them to the hospital because naloxone does wear off…” she says.
She finishes the training, and hands the man a box of naloxone. It was one of more than 113 kits of the opioid antagonist that Acree, an assistant professor at the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy and a team representing Cabin Creek Health System gave out during Thursday’s annual naloxone distribution Save A Life Day.
The naloxone distribution event began in 2020 with two counties — Kanawha and Putnam — as overdoses skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Save A Life Day expanded to 180 counties in all 13 states in Appalachia.
Kanawha County had 14 sites and a fleet of mobile teams distributing the opioid overdose reversal drug, said Joe Solomon, one of the event’s organizers.
At the church’s drop-in center, naloxone is “probably the number two asked question,” outreach coordinator Derek Hudson said. There’s never been an overdose at the church, he said, but its night outreach teams see them frequently when visiting homeless encampments and “trap houses,” Hudson said.
Partner organizations frequently distribute naloxone at the program, Hudson said, but “you can never have enough.”
Acree and the team next head to a North Charleston housing public housing development, where they find longtime resident Virginia Nesmith on a front porch.
Nesmith — who manages a food distribution program and is known to some as the “mayor of Orchard Manor,” and simply “Miss Virginia” to others, is planning a community emergency preparedness event, she tells Van Horn.
“You [at] one time told me you wanted naloxone, do you remember that?” he asks. “I’ve got naloxone, do you want it now?”
But Nesmith has a better idea: could someone come back during food distribution and lead naloxone training for the people there?
By the time the team leaves minutes later, Acree has firm plans to come back the following day to lead a training, and distribute the opioid reversal drugs.
“You may be able to talk to someone tomorrow who might be deceased by next Monday,” Nesmith said.
According to distribution counts from Solomon, 2,075 naloxone kits were distributed in Kanawha County Thursday — more than double the 1,005 recorded during last year’s event. Totals from the entire Appalachian region were not yet available Friday.
Solomon said the increasing amounts of naloxone distributed this year points to the need for an accessible countywide syringe service program.
Kanawha County’s one syringe service program is operated by West Virginia Health Right.
Local and state leaders in recent years imposed restrictions on the programs that health officials said create barriers, such as a requirement to operate with a goal of getting back every syringe it distributes.
“[Syringe service programs] are our best opportunity at distributing mass naloxone to people who are at risk of overdose year round,” he said. “Everything else we can do without [syringe services programs] is still vital — and even moreso without them — though we’re still missing the bedrock response to this crisis in Charleston and Kanawha County.”
Coordinator Iris Sidikman attributed “substantially” more naloxone being distributed to volunteers who were energized and excited by the success teams had last year.
“My biggest hope for Save A Life Day is that it enables people to build out more robust naloxone distribution year round,” they said.