VA Adding Opioid Antidote To Defibrillator Cabinets For Quicker Overdose Response

It took more than 10 minutes for paramedics to arrive after a housekeeper found a man collapsed on the floor of a bathroom in a Boston Veteran Affairs building.

The paramedics immediately administered naloxone, often known by its brand name Narcan, to successfully reverse the man’s opioid overdose. But it takes only a few minutes without oxygen for brain damage to begin.

Pam Bellino, patient safety manager for the Boston VA, read that incident report in December 2015 with alarm. “That was the tipping point for us to say, ‘We need to get this naloxone immediately available, without locking it up,’” she said.

The easiest way to do it quickly, Bellino reasoned, would be to add the drug to the automated external defibrillator, or AED, cabinets already in place. Those metal boxes on the walls of VA cafeterias, gyms, warehouses, clinic waiting rooms and some rehab housing were installed to hold equipment for a fast response to heart attacks.

Now the VA, building on the project started in Boston, is moving to add naloxone kits to the AED cabinets in its buildings across the country, an initiative that could become a model for other health care organizations.

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