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As Colorado sees record overdoses, the Colorado Naloxone Project pushes possible lifesaving treatment

Narcan nasal spray at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood
Posted at 10:16 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 01:07:33-04

DENVER — The labor and delivery department at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood is taking on a new role in the battle against opioid overdoses.

The hospital is the first to distribute Narcan, an anti-overdose nasal treatment that advocates say should be on the front lines in saving lives during the opioid epidemic.

"Today is the National Overdose Awareness Day. So, we've launched the program today," said Mari Gambotto, a labor and delivery nurse at Swedish Medical Center. "It saves their lives. We're here to save mother's lives."

Gambotto believes a labor and delivery office is the best place to reach potential overdose patients because it is the only time some people come to a hospital for help.

"Labor and delivery is a place that people seek out medical care when maybe they haven't seen a doctor in years," she said.

The program was established by the Colorado Naloxone Project which was established in April to find ways to get lifesaving drugs into the hands of emergency rooms and patients across Colorado.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can reverse an overdose and give a patient much needed time to get to a hospital before heroine, opium or fentanyl kills them. Naloxone, administered through the nose, can dramatically improve the chance that a patient will survive an overdose if taken soon after.

"We know that overdose affects every single community in our state, and too many young people are dying because of it," said Dr. Donald Stader, chair of the Colorado Naloxone Project. "If we're able to implement this, we will save, in Colorado, hundreds upon hundreds of lives every single year."

The project is up against staggering odds. In 2020 alone, overdose deaths increased by more than 37%. A total of 1,157 people have died to overdoses in the past year alone.

"The opioid crisis and overdose crisis has definitely accelerated over the last few years, driven in part because of COVID," Stader said. "And, in part, because our drug supply has gotten far more dangerous with fentanyl."

Since April, when the Colorado Naloxone Project began, 62 hospitals have signed on to the plan to distribute the drug in emergency rooms and physicians offices. Stader hopes at least 60 more medical centers will sign on before he calls the program a success.

"Those are a lot of lives that we can save, that we are not saving," Stader said. "We have to create a better system if we want better results, and this is part of that system."

On Tuesday, the Colorado Naloxone Project announced a $500,000 grant from the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health to purchase and distribute the nasal spray. A step, experts say in battling the growing problem.

"We are losing too many young, pregnant mothers to unnecessary preventable overdose," Stader said. "Naloxone is not a long-term treatment, it's a rescue."