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Opioid overdose education and naloxone distribution

August 1, 2018

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VA now has the largest naloxone distribution program in any U.S. health care system. Naloxone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids. It can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save the person's life if given correctly.

In 2014 and 2015, researchers with the VA Palo Alto Health Care System evaluated the feasibility of VA’s distributing naloxone to Veterans at risk for an opioid overdose, either due to an existing opioid use disorder or because of a high dose of prescribed opioid or other factors. Knowledge gained from this project was used to create informational materials accessed by hundreds of VA clinicians and thousands of Veterans. Researchers also identified barriers to use, such as co-pays for overdose education and naloxone medication. A co-pay waiver was included in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016. This waiver has been fully implemented in VA care.

Between May 2014 and September 2019, VA has distributed naloxone to more than 200,000 Veterans. More than 700 successful opioid overdose reversals have been documented as a result of the program. VA has also distributed naloxone to police officers at 116 VA medical facilities and has placed it in many defibrillator cabinets for easy access in an emergency, resulting in more than 100 overdose reversals.

Project title: Implementing overdose education and naloxone distribution: A formative evaluation

Principal investigator: Elizabeth Oliva, PhD; VA Palo Alto Health Care System

Selected publications:

Oliva EM, Nevedal A, Lewis ET, McCaa MD, Cochran MF, Konicki PE, Davis CS, Wilder C. Patient perspectives on an opioid overdose education and naloxone distribution program in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Subst Abus. 2016;37(1):118-26.

Finlay AK, Oliva EM, Timko C, Moos RH, Cronkite R. Predictors of 30-year mortality in depressed and comparison samples. J Affect Disord. 2014 Aug 1;165:114-9.

Oliva EM, Midboe AM, Lewis ET, Henderson PT, Dalton AL, Im JJ, Seal K, Paik MC, Trafton JA. Sex differences in chronic pain management practices for patients receiving opioids from the Veterans Health Administration. Pain Med. 2014 Jul 13;16(1):112-8.

Oliva EM, Bowe T, Harris AH, Trafton JA. Datapoints: false starts in psychotherapy for substance use disorders and PTSD in the VHA. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.). 2013 Aug 1;64(8):722.


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