May 13, 2024 - News

Narcan expansion in Multnomah County hits roadblock

Two hands hold a plastic bag with a single dose of naloxone in it.

Photo: Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A law passed by the Oregon Legislature last year that sought to expand community access to naloxone has had little effect within several public-facing Multnomah County institutions that stock the drug but do not distribute it.

Why it matters: As overdose deaths skyrocket across the state, health officials say access to life-saving overdose-reversal medication is essential for all members of the public, not just first responders.

Catch up quick: House Bill 2395 grants anyone who administers or distributes naloxone legal protection under Oregon's Good Samaritan Law.

  • But its main goal, according to the bill's chief sponsor, was to give public buildings like libraries, schools, firehouses and community centers the ability to hand out overdose-reversal medications like Narcan to anyone.

Yes, but: "Whether or not that is the outcome really depends on how much money is used to make sure that public buildings have naloxone on hand," state Rep. Maxine Dexter told Axios.

Reality check: Every location within the Multnomah County Library network and all 81 Portland Public Schools keep a well-stocked supply of Narcan and have staff trained on how to administer it.

  • But none distribute the medication to those who seek it, despite the new law giving the clearance to do so.

Friction point: That's because the drug is expensive — the retail cost of a two-dose pack is $40 — and the law does not provide funding for additional purchases, Kelsi Junge, a supervisor with Multnomah County Health Department, told Axios.

  • The county's health department procures Narcan for local libraries and schools, but their "shoestring budget" doesn't allow for no-cost distribution at these locations, Junge said.

The intrigue: A previous version of HB 2395 would've directed the Oregon Prescription Drug Purchasing Program to buy naloxone in bulk, but was not adopted.

Zoom in: Multnomah County Libraries started stocking Narcan five years ago and offers virtual overdose reversal training to all staff but does not give it out to the public, spokesperson Shawn Cunningham told Axios.

  • "There's never been any problem with not having enough or not being able to get more," he said.
  • All Portland Public Schools buildings have carried Narcan since 2022, and nurses and administrators are trained in administering it, spokesperson Sydney Kelly told Axios. Yet, parents or students who may want to carry their own supply can't access it there.

If there was an overdose at one of these spaces, both have internal policies to call emergency services first, which usually use their own supply of naloxone — though employees have been the ones to take action first in some circumstances.

The bottom line: Junge routinely fields calls of frustration from residents, businesses and organizations that want better access to no-cost naloxone, but "being good stewards of the public funds we have, it's prioritized towards those groups that are at highest likelihood to encounter an overdose."

  • No-cost overdose kits are available in the county jail lobby and inside the STI clinic at the Gladys McCoy Building downtown, according to the health department.
  • Organizations can apply via Save Lives Oregon to receive state-funded harm reduction supplies, including naloxone.

What's next: The county is exploring placing naloxone vending machines in areas where many overdoses happen, like the Central Library.

  • But determining who will pay for the naloxone that goes inside is still undetermined, Junge said.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to remove a reference to a limit on the number of overdose response kits that organizations can obtain from Save Lives Oregon.

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