May 18—SELLERSBURG — On Friday, the Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department installed what is believed to be the first Naloxbox in Clark County, a publicly accessible box that contains naloxone kits, an intranasal medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
As of Monday, several of the kits had been taken from the box outside the station at 426 E. Utica Street, and Karen Tweedy, deputy chief over personnel, said she hopes those kits can help save a person's life.
"Hopefully someone who thought they may need them maybe took what they thought they needed," she said.
The department was able to get the box through a partnership with Overdose Lifeline, Inc., which will also provide additional supply to restock it.
"It's just a way for us to help this community," she said. "If it helps one person, I feel good when I look in the mirror that we're contributing what we can. We can't help everybody but maybe we can help one."
She added that while many first responders carry naloxone, having it close by can save crucial minutes waiting for an ambulance to arrive, especially if first responders are on the other side of town. She heard a call over the scanner this week of a person who was administered naloxone before first responders somewhere in the area arrived.
The resource comes as opioid use disorder continues to be a major issue in Southern Indiana. Just in the Sellersburg area, there's an average of three overdoses a week, Tweedy said.
"And it keeps growing," she said. "This isn't a problem with young people, it isn't a problem with old people, it's not a problem for females, males, it' a problem for everybody. It's affecting middle school people up to 80 years old. It doesn't discriminate."
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said he was glad to hear that some of the doses had been removed.
"That tells us there's a need out in the community for it," he said. "It's a good thing."
For the past 12 months, local health officials have reported much higher opioid overdoses and overdose deaths than in years before, which they attribute to stressors of the pandemic including isolation, grief and loss of economic security.
And the surge doesn't appear to be letting up in 2021, at least through the first part of the year. Yazel said that January through March showed the highest overall overdose numbers Clark County has ever recorded, but with a sharp drop for April, "almost down to our pre-COVID baseline numbers."
He added that as an ER doctor, he's also seen a shift back to methamphetamine. For about a year before COVID, meth had overtaken opioids as the drug most seen by first responders and law enforcement but through 2020, that had switched back to opioids.
"If there's a silver lining, you don't tend to see as many overdose deaths from methamphetamine," he said. "But we are seeing some laced product out there and it's a tough drug to manage. They're very agitated in the emergency departments. We worry about our staff and there's not as many evidence-based recovery options."
New Albany-based Our Place Drug & Alcohol Education Services Inc. has also been working on implementing the Naloxboxes. Casey Nesmith, coordinator of the Drug Free Community initiative there, said three are expected to be installed over the next month — one at Our Place (400 E. Spring Street,) one at St. Marks United Church of Christ (222 E. Spring Street) and one at the Floyd County Health Department (1917 Bono Rd.).
Doug Bentfield, administrator of the Clark County Health Department, said he is glad to see the first of what he hopes is more boxes getting out into the community. But he added that it's important for people who are treated for an overdose — whether through naloxone administered by a family member, by a first responder or in another setting — to have the necessary follow-up.
"We want to make sure Narcan is available, we also want to make sure that when someone is in need of Narcan and use Narcan they do seek medical treatment immediately following," he said, referring to a name brand naloxone product.
"It's not something where you use Narcan and think things are fine. You need to get medical treatment and then hopefully during that medical treatment we can talk about options for recovery."