“He was in his late 20s, an architect who had everything in the world going for him. He went to sleep and didn’t wake up,” recalls Oftebro.
The pain of losing a cousin who mixed methadone with alcohol inspired pharmacist Ryan Oftebro to turn his attention to preventing others from suffering the same fate. Oftebro, ‘95,’03, one of three pharmacist-owners of Seattle’s Kelley-Ross Pharmacy, is participating in a partnership between Public Health-Seattle & King County, the University of Washington and Kelley-Ross Pharmacy to provide a take-home naloxone kit to anyone who needs it.
Naloxone is a liquid opiate antidote that can reverse the effects of overdose and normally must be injected by someone trained in giving shots. But that isn’t always possible. The naloxone kit from Kelley-Ross includes a pre-filled syringe along with a nasal atomizer that is much easier to use. By administering the drug into the nose as a spray, it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. It only takes a couple of minutes for the naloxone to kick-in and for breathing to resume.
Contrary to popular belief, illegal street drugs are not the only cause of overdose death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2008 that more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and prescription drugs caused most of these deaths. Caleb Banta-Green, ’96, 97, ’08, a research scientist at the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI) and an Affiliate Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health says about two Washingtonians die every day from drug overdoses, most involving opiates. All are preventable and many overdoses can be reversed before a person dies.
The idea for distributing the kits more widely came from conversations between Banta-Green, and Oftebro. The kits are available to anyone who is at risk for an overdose or for witnessing an overdose. The kits cost $85 but with Medicaid eligibility the cost of the drug itself, about $50, is covered. A naloxone locator for WA State and overdose education materials can be found on www.stopoverdose.org.
So far, Kelley-Ross is the only pharmacy to dispense the kits in Washington State and one of the few nationwide. To date, they have dispensed around 30 kits and provided training to more than 500 healthcare workers, pharmacists, and concerned community members.
In addition to the take-home naloxone program, pharmacists from Kelley-Ross have given educational presentations regarding naloxone access and training to staff at the Downtown Emergency Services Center and other organizations that serve people struggling with drug abuse or addiction.Oftebro said he would like to see the kits available in all pharmacies and in facilities such as homeless shelters and college dorms, much the way automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are placed.—Julie Garner