INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s a lifesaving tool that’s easy to use, but not always easy to get. Now a state senator is aiming to change that and some Hoosier families are hoping their stories can influence the decision.
Justin Phillips is not a first responder, but she can teach you how to save a life. Standing over her dining room table, she describes how to use a certain tool if a heroin user overdoses.
“We give them instructions on how to draw up the 1CC into the syringe,” she said as she held a vial of Naloxone in her hand.
Naloxone is also known as Narcan, the miracle medicine than can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose almost instantly.
Her non-profit, Overdose Lifeline Incorporated (ODI), put Narcan kits together to give to families or friends of people with opiate addictions. They come complete with two syringes, the drug, and directions on how to use it. Teresa Short already knows how to use them.
“I would probably enter it through the thigh of the muscle in their leg,” she said.
Short lost a step-son to an overdose. Her son is also a recovering heroin addict. Thanks to ODI, she keeps several doses of Narcan handy.
“I carry it in my car. I have it in my house and I feel comfortable that I could save him or save anyone,” Short said.
Thanks to a law passed in 2015, Hoosiers have two ways to get Narcan. They can reach out to Phillips’ organization or get a prescription. Phillips said the second option is where some of the difficulties begin.
“Families still struggle with the stigma that surrounds going to the doctor and admitting that they have this challenge in their family,” Phillips said.
She and Short added that they’ve heard of some families being denied getting a prescription, which leads them to contacting ODI. But if they can get past the fear of visiting and doctor and acquire a prescription, more difficulties pop up.
Not every a pharmacy has Narcan readily available. WISH-TV reached out to a few Walgreens locations in Indianapolis and they didn’t have it ready. Some of the pharmacy technicians didn’t even know what we were asking about.
One CVS location didn’t have it available, but Phillips said most CVS locations could order it within a day. Phillips worries that even waiting just 24 hours can make an already anxious family turn away.
“Right now the only pharmacies that we’re aware of where you can get it immediately are what’s called compounding pharmacies,” Phillips said.
Dr. Aziz Pharmacy on Indy’s north side is a compounding pharmacy. When we called, President Kurt Moyer explained how he had several kits available, similar to what ODI put together. The kits include a pair of gloves, instructions, and customers have the choice of picking the injectable Narcan or nasal spray.
Since last summer, Moyer said they’ve filled about 50 prescriptions.
“Part of compounding and independent pharmacy is being able to accommodate special needs for patients and one of those is being able to put together these kits for them,” he said.
ODI gives out prescription forms to start the process, but Phillips would prefer this sometimes troublesome step wasn’t even necessary.
“I think it’s going to make a tremendous amount of difference if you have one less step you have to go through,” said Phillips.
Luckily, Phillips has one lawmaker who agrees.
“This is just one factor in the pursuit of knocking the plague out,” said Senator Jim Merritt.
He introduced a bill this session that would allow people to get Narcan over the counter without a prescription. More than a dozen states already have similar laws.
“This is kind of an insurance policy for maybe somebody in your cul-de-sac or maybe someone in your family who is struggling with addiction,” he said.
The bill would amend the law he spearhead last year that allowed prescription Narcan in the first place. It’s called Aaron’s Law and it’s named after Phillips’ son. He died of an overdose three years ago.
“I like this picture so much because I think he looks handsome in his plaid shirt,” she said looking down at a framed picture she keeps of her son in her living room.
On the one hand he would be like ‘really mom, you’re going to show my picture again? Will you cut it out,” she joked. “But on the other hand… he would be pleased that we were making a difference.”
Losing her son was undoubtedly difficult, but it’s also created an non-stop effort to make sure other families don’t experience the same pain.
“If my hindsight can make a difference then that’s what it’s about,” Phillips said.
If people are struggling to get a Narcan prescription written, Dr. Aziz Pharmacy also has a clinic where a doctor can take care of that.
We reached out to CVS Corporate to ask about the availability of Narcan at its pharmacies. A representative told us that there is a standing order in Indiana which works as a blanket prescription, similar to how pharmacies provide flu shots without a patient needing a prescription. The rep said it covers anyone how needs Narcan on-hand for an emergency whether they are an opiate user, a family member or a caregiver.
The rep added that the availability of Narcan will vary based on location and that if a CVS pharmacy doesn’t have it in stock it would be available within one business day.
If you’d like to reach out to ODI or learn more about obtaining a prescription, click here.