In Five Years, the VA Has Given Out 200,000 Doses of Anti-Overdose Drug

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An airman at the 178th Wing holds Nalaxone (Narcan), distributed to use in case they encounter someone experiencing an opioid overdose May 6, 2019, at Springfield Air National Guard Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Amber Mullen)
An airman at the 178th Wing holds Nalaxone (Narcan), distributed to use in case they encounter someone experiencing an opioid overdose May 6, 2019, at Springfield Air National Guard Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Amber Mullen)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued naloxone -- a drug used to treat narcotic overdoses in emergency situations -- to more than 200,000 veterans from May 2014 to September 2019, according to a department news release.

The drug, sometimes known as Narcan, is issued to veterans who are at risk for overdose because they are prescribed a very high dose of an opioid painkiller; they have a potential or recorded drug abuse problem; or they exhibit other factors the VA deems risky.

Since the VA began distribution of naloxone, it has documented more than 700 successful overdose reversals resulting from its use.

Related: Opiate Addiction and Veterans: How to Get Help

As directed by the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, the VA issues the drug for free.

"Veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental overdose compared to the general U.S. population," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. "Given the opioid crisis, it is our duty to do everything we can to help Veterans avoid opioid overdose and, thanks to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, naloxone education and naloxone prescriptions are free to Veterans enrolled for VA care who may be at-risk of opioid overdose."

To fight opioid addiction, the VA has developed a multidisciplinary approach that includes patient education, reducing reliance on opioid medication for pain management and offering pain care options that are safer and more effective in the long run, such as yoga, acupuncture, tai chi and behavioral health approaches. Naloxone is a last-resort lifesaving option.

See: VA Expanding New Holistic Health Programs

Besides issuing naloxone directly to veterans deemed at-risk (or their caregivers), the VA makes the drug available at more than 170 of its facilities nationwide. Since stocking the drug at those locations, the VA has reported 126 veterans have had potentially deadly overdoses reversed.

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