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'Giving a Tomorrow' for International Overdose Awareness Day

by Lt. Cmdr. Samantha Gustafson, PharmD, advanced practice pharmacist at Red Lake Hospital and IHS Heroin, Opioids, and Pain Efforts Committee's Harm Reduction Safe Syringe Services Workgroup lead

International Overdose Awareness Day is an event held on August 31, focused on raising awareness about prescription opioid overdose risk, providing information on available community services, and preventing drug-related harm. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends that have lost loved ones to overdose.

“Tell my mom to quit.” This is what a young girl wrote when asked to come up with a naloxone campaign slogan at her community health fair years ago. The memory still brings tears to my eyes. Somewhere in the community, this girl had a mother. A mother that clearly needed support, not only for herself, but also her beautiful daughter. As the child stood before me, I couldn’t help but wonder what her future held. Were there resources available to help her family navigate the throes of addiction? While she was too young to understand the naloxone initiative as a whole, she was aware of how drug abuse affects families and that hers was in need of help.

At that time, we as pharmacists at the Red Lake Hospital in Minnesota had a choice to make. Would we remain static in our response to the opioid epidemic or would we step outside the box and consider new alternatives? Naloxone co-prescribing was something that many of us had heard about but never truly considered until we recognized a need locally. As the community began to reach out, we realized that the possibility of saving lives with naloxone far exceeded any apprehension about starting a new program. 

The Red Lake naloxone co-prescribing and first responder initiatives began to take shape by building relationships and collaborating with local tribal programs. Staff and community comfort was fostered through consistent ongoing education while trainings were created, policies were developed, and tribal code was amended to allow for good faith immunity, which provides protection from damages arising from acts related to a person who assists someone in a life threatening emergency. The community truly embraced expanded access to naloxone with 678 first responders receiving training and 526 doses distributed to those outside of public safety since 2015. Naloxone is now also provided to anyone on high-risk opioid doses, risky medication combinations, or community members with a shared interest in opioid overdose reversal. 

Looking ahead, we realize that each community and the needs that come with it are unique. With prescription opioid overdose claiming the lives of 46 Americans each day, health care providers and community members cannot afford to overlook naloxone as a life-saving tool. Imagine a family member or friend with a prescription for an opioid to manage pain, and then think about whether you would want a chance to save their life in an accidental overdose situation. Naloxone can provide that chance! Ask yourself, “Who could I save by having and carrying naloxone?” Make a commitment to getting training on opioid overdose reversal and call your local IHS facility to find out more information on how you can obtain naloxone to ‘give a tomorrow’.

Related content:

Co-prescribing Naloxone with Opioids May Help Curb the Devastating Risks of Opioid Misuse


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Overdose Prevention Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving 

Lt. Cmdr. Samantha Gustafson, PharmD, advanced practice pharmacist at Red Lake Hospital and IHS Heroin, Opioids, and Pain Efforts Committee's Harm Reduction Safe Syringe Services Workgroup lead
Lt. Cmdr. Samantha Gustafson is a clinical pharmacist at the Red Lake Hospital. She has her doctorate in pharmacy from North Dakota State University and has served the Red Lake Nation since 2014, where she has worked with community stakeholders to enable broad access to harm reduction strategies, including naloxone and syringe exchange services. She is also a member of the IHS Heroin, Opioids and Pain Efforts Committee Harm Reduction workgroup.