As the country grapples with a devastating opioid crisis, essential hospitals are working to prevent overdose deaths in their communities. One of their main tools in the fight is naloxone.

Naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug, can be administered at the time of overdose to help keep patients alive before they get to the emergency department. The drug typically is administered by first responders, but also can be dispensed by friends and family members with proper training.

The MetroHealth System, in Cleveland, recently received a four-year, $1.9 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to establish the MetroHealth First Responders Project. The initiative aims to increase access to naloxone and improve education and training for law enforcement and lay responders throughout Cuyahoga County. Under the project, MetroHealth plans to distribute 1,600 naloxone kits annually to opioid users and their families, and equip 95 percent of law enforcement agencies with the lifesaving drug by 2019.

Another essential hospital launched an inpatient naloxone program earlier this year. At Kent Hospital of Care New England Health System, in Providence, Rhode Island, an interdisciplinary team of clinicians, pharmacists, and social workers launched the program to reach underserved residents. A questionnaire is used to identify at-risk patients who then are given a naloxone kit and training on how to administer the drug. Training is timed for when a family member or friend is present — often upon discharge — so they can learn how to use the drug. A social services representative follows up with the patient 30 days after discharge to discuss substance use, naloxone use, and general progress.

America’s Essential Hospitals will host an Oct. 17 webinar on navigating the opioid crisis at essential hospitals