5 recommendations to reduce, prevent opioid overdoses

Graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh have compiled a list of recommendations to prevent opioid overdoses that is being presented at the American Public Health Association 2016 Annual Meeting & Exposition in Denver.

"Heroin-related deaths have tripled in the past decade. There is no quick fix to the opioid overdose epidemic," said Elizabeth Van Nostrand, JD, assistant professor of health policy and management at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. "And that is why carefully implemented, evidence-based policy is so crucial. We have limited resources, and they need to be used as effectively as possible, which is what good health policy does."

The class, which is made up of students from a variety of fields, focused on policies regarding the drug naloxone on populations of veterans and inmates. Over the course of a semester, the students researched the growing number of opioid overdoses and current laws to compile a list of recommendations for local agencies on how to best implement solutions.

The list of recommendations for the Allegheny County Health Department included:

  • Train inmates on how to use naloxone to prevent opioid abuse and provide the drug to them.
  • Offer treatment to inmates with opioid addiction.
  • Give naloxone to families and friends of veterans who are at risk of overdosing.
  • Train first responders and bystanders on the use of naloxone.
  • Provide more information regarding the opioid epidemic to the public as well as data-sharing between the community and government.

"Of the populations we studied, our research suggests that people recently released from incarceration would benefit the most from naloxone distribution because they are highly susceptible to overdosing," said Van Nostrand. "When someone with an opioid use disorder is released from jail, they may not be as motivated to maintain recovery in comparison to those who voluntarily seek treatment. And if they resume drug use at the levels used before incarceration, it could kill them."