||Clockwise from top: Fort Wayne Medical Society Alliance members
Betty Canavati, Tonya Hughes, Preeti Jain, Tamzin Cheshire, and Cami Pond;
a Narcan box; ISMA member Dr. Randal Hughes installs one of the boxes.
As president-elect of the Fort Wayne Medical Society Alliance, Tonya Hughes wanted to be sure her two-year presidential service initiative would make a positive impact on the health of local residents. When she read that a vending machine with 350 units of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone had been installed at Clark Memorial Health in Jeffersonville, she knew she was on to something.
As in much of Indiana, fatal overdoses have risen in Allen County, driven by the addition of fentanyl to many narcotics. Last year, 173 county residents died of drug overdoses. This year, 53 more had died and 48 other overdose deaths were pending confirmation, Fort Wayne Police Capt. Kevin Hunter told WANE-TV in late July.
“We all know about the opioid crisis,” said Hughes, who is married to ISMA member Randal Hughes, MD. “I thought the vending machines were such a unique idea that I would love to get one here.”
The naloxone dispensers are an initiative of Gov. Eric Holcomb, funded by a 21st Century Cares Act grant administered by the state through Indianapolis-based Overdose Lifeline. But by the time Hughes became president of the Fort Wayne group (which is part of the statewide ISMA Alliance), all available machines had been spoken for.
Hughes was undeterred. Through Overdose Lifeline’s executive director, Justin Phillips, she learned that naloxone boxes were available to be placed on building exteriors. The alliance has already installed four of the shoebox-sized containers in overdose “hot zones” identified with the help of Capt. Hunter, who oversees the FWPD’s vice and narcotics bureau. Each box holds 10 units of naloxone (commonly known by the brand name Narcan) and test strips that detect fentanyl. Four more boxes are on order.
“My goal was to put in at least 30 of these Narcan boxes; the more we can get, the more lives we will save,” Hughes said.
The boxes are in high-traffic areas, including near food pantries and shelters, and have been well-used. The first one to be installed, at Trinity United Methodist Church, has been refilled several times; the second one, at the Inasmuch Ministry of Broadway Christian Church, was empty in less than 24 hours, Hughes said. The other two boxes are at North Coast Organics and a SuperShot immunization clinic.
Some business owners approached by the alliance could not give permission to affix a box because they did not own their building. Others were afraid that drilling the requisite four holes would damage their building’s exterior. Once again, Hughes looked for another option.
She did some research to find out what other states were doing to make naloxone more accessible, and discovered a New York City initiative to stock bars and restaurants with overdose rescue kits. Now, the alliance is working to create 300 similar kits for local businesses. In addition to naloxone, the kits will contain pamphlets explaining overdose symptoms, how to administer naloxone and steps to follow until an ambulance arrives. The pamphlets will also have information about recovery resources in Fort Wayne and a QR code to scan for locations of naloxone boxes in Indiana.
And, with the assistance of ISMA member and Allen County Health Commissioner Thomas Gutwein, MD, the alliance is finally close to securing a naloxone vending machine for Fort Wayne.
Hughes is grateful to have naloxone available to distribute free of charge. “Without those grants, we wouldn’t be able to save these lives,” she said. “I wish everyone would carry Narcan.”
She also hopes to inspire others to help make naloxone more available. “In Indiana, anyone can contact Overdose Lifeline and do exactly what we’re doing,” she said. “All the hard work has been done for us.”
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