Nearly one-third of programs reported either running out of or needing to ration naloxone in the preceding three months
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study by RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, has found that 94% of syringe service programs in the U.S. now distribute naloxone through an opioid overdose education and naloxone distribution program (OEND). The figure represents a significant increase from the 55% of programs that reported distributing the life-saving opioid overdose medication in a 2013 survey.
However, the study also found that there was substantial variability in naloxone distribution throughout the country with more needing to be done to keep pace with the increasing number of opioid overdose deaths.
“It’s encouraging to see the considerable growth of naloxone distribution at syringe service programs over the past seven years,” said Barrot Lambdin, PhD, senior epidemiologist and implementation scientist at RTI and lead author of the study. “Syringe service programs have been doing tremendous work under difficult circumstances, and we need to be doing more to support these programs to scale up naloxone even further. This need has only grown in importance since the coronavirus pandemic began, which has destabilized many services for people who use drugs.”
Lambdin and his colleagues conducted an online survey that was sent to 342 syringe service programs in the North American Syringe Exchange Network database. The research team received responses from 263 programs, with 247 indicating that they had implemented an OEND program. OEND programs train people to be responders during overdose events and provide access to naloxone and directions for drug delivery.
Of the programs that responded, 77% reported offering naloxone every time syringe services were provided and 87% reported providing naloxone refills as people requested them. Nearly one-third of programs reported either running out of naloxone or needing to ration naloxone in the preceding three months.
To gain more insight, the research team compared the number of people who received naloxone doses and the number of doses distributed to the number of opioid overdose deaths from the National Center for Health Statistics' census division data. The highest ratios of people who received naloxone per opioid overdose death and naloxone doses distributed per opioid overdose death were from programs in the western half of the country (the Pacific, Mountain, and West North Central census divisions).
“The fact that so many programs are distributing naloxone is exciting. Now, we must support them so that they can operate at a scale that fully meets the communities’ needs,” added Lambdin. “It really comes down to a resources issue — not a lack of will nor a lack of trying.”
The study’s findings were published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a digest prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To learn more about RTI’s research on harm reduction practices, visit: www.rti.org/emerging-issue/opioid-research/interventions-opioid-use-disorders.