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At N.H. addiction symposium, speakers praise Narcan advantages

  • Dr. Sharon Stancliff gives an overview of Naloxone during her presentation at a daylong symposium titled “Harm Reduction in an Opioid Era” at the Arthur D. Kehas Criminal Justice Training Facility & Campus in Concord on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Farmington Chief of Police John Drury speaks during a daylong symposium titled “Harm Reduction in an Opioid Era” at the Arthur D. Kehas Criminal Justice Training Facility & Campus in Concord on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, January 18, 2018

The benefits of naloxone are clear by now. The medication – often known by one of its brand names, Narcan – has assisted thousands of heroin users in New Hampshire in recent years, pulling back countless overdose victims from the brink of death.

But speaking before a packed auditorium at a daylong conference in Concord on Thursday, Sharon Stancliff pointed to an inconvenient constraint: cost. At around $130 for two doses, the drug isn’t cheap, and first responders are sometimes limited by the resources at hand, even if the result can be lifesaving.

The path forward beyond the first responders, Stancliff said, is engagement from the community.

“If you just want people to breathe again, we need more naloxone in the hands of more people in the community rather than more naloxone in the hands of the few,” she said.

Stancliff is well-credentialed: She currently serves as the medical director at the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York, and has used the role to expand naloxone use throughout the state.

And her audience was attuned. Hundreds had crammed into a space at the Kehas Criminal Justice Training Facility for the Everett Koop Addiction Medicine Symposium, a group comprising nurses, treatment workers and public health advocates. Throughout the day, a diverse array of presenters touched on a range of approaches to New Hampshire’s epidemic, from needle exchange programs to supervised injection sites to treatment in correctional facilities.

But for all the global, long-term treatment strategies, naloxone is by far the most direct. The drug, taking the form of an injection or nasal spray, counteracts muscle rigidity during an overdose event, allowing the victim to relax and regain their breath.

For Stancliff, there are numerous initiatives New York has tried that could be replicated in New Hampshire to boost Narcan’s availability. The state could cover the co-pays for the drug for residents wishing to buy it in pharmacies, and it could focus on training prisoners in its use before their release, she said.

Farmington police Chief John Drury echoed the advice. Drury’s department uses Narcan heavily, generally administering it to someone in town at least twice a week, he said. And police have put on a range of events to help educate the public, from “Narcan breakfasts” to training sessions in the park.

“Narcan is great,” he said. “It gives a person a second chance at life. When we’re present, it gives us a moment to intervene.”

The conference, sponsored by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Substance Use and Mental Health Initiative along with a host of other groups, put the scope of the present crisis into relief. And it attracted a high-profile attendee – Gov. Chris Sununu – who gave remarks to start the day.

Sununu pointed to New Hampshire’s lowered overdose death rate in 2017, often attributed to the availability of Narcan, as a silver lining.

“One (death) is too many,” he said. “Which means we’re going to be fighting this battle for a long, long time. So we have to be cognizant and mindful of that. But we are definitely making some strides.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at
@edewittNH.)