ATLANTA — A critical shortage of naloxone is fueling a surge in overdose deaths across Georgia and the country.
The medicine is a lifeline for people who overdose on opioids, heroin and fentanyl. Channel 2′s Tom Regan examined what is behind the shortfall, and the deadly consequences.
Regan got hold of home video of a man as he is overdosing on heroin.
The video showed the man was barely breathing. Fortunately for him, there was someone there with a needle of injectable naloxone.
Within seconds of getting the shot, he is brought back from the brink of death, breathing once again.
“I would not be here without it,” Jordan Hussey said. The director of the addiction recovery center in Hall County called J’s Place said she is a living testament to naloxone.
After overdosing on pain pills in 2014, “I was found in the cab of my truck at a gas pump at four o’clock in the morning by police officers,” she said. “I was taken to the hospital and naloxone was administered and it saved my life.”
With a seismic surge in deadly drug overdoses, the need for affordable naloxone has never been greater.
But a manufacturing issue at Pfizer halted production of the life-saving medicine in the spring.
Leaders from two groups that distribute it to harm-reduction centers across the country said the critical shortage will have devastating consequences.
“We estimate between 12,000 and 18,000 additional fatalities in 2021 because of this shortage,” said Maya Doe-Simkins, co-founder of the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network.
Under an agreement they set up with Pfizer, the network buys naloxone at a sharply discounted price. Pfizer is one of about five manufacturers of the drug, but Doe-Simkins said Pfizer is the only drugmaker willing to offer it at an affordable cost.
“It’s just wildly out of financial reach for grassroots, harm-reduction programs that distribute the literal backbone of overdose prevention volume in this country,” Doe-Simkins said.
She said shelves normally stocked with naloxone are nearly empty.
“We are under what we need by a million doses,” Doe-Simkins said.
Laurie Fugitt is co-founder of Georgia Overdose Prevention. They distribute naloxone kits in the community and train people on how to use it.
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Before August’s totals were available “(we) already ... had 126 reversals from Georgia overdose prevention kits,” Fugitt said.
Donations pay for the naloxone, but due to the shortage, Georgia Overdose Prevention is now only getting 1% of the thousands of doses ordered.
“More people are going to die needlessly because we don’t have the number of kits that we need,” Fugitt said. “It keeps me up at night.”
She is making a public appeal to help fill the gap.
“If anyone had any extra naloxone that they’re not going to use because it close or past the expiration date, if they can get in touch with Georgia Overdose Prevention,” Fugitt said.
“This is beyond the shadow of a doubt an absolute crisis,” Doe-Simkins said.
“More fatal overdoses. It will be catastrophic,” Hussey said.
Pfizer told Regan the naloxone shortage was unrelated to production of its COVID-19 vaccine.
The company said it is working with organizations to minimize the impact of the naloxone shortage and hopes to be back at full production capacity by the end of the year.
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