Federal and state officials targeting painkiller overdoses

A federal grant potentially worth $5 million will be used to prevent opioid overdoses by Washington residents, including seniors.

The funding from the U.S. Department Health and Human Services to the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is for $1 million a year and a period of up to five years. Announced Aug. 31, Washington is among 12 states to receive such funding for overdose prevention and response training and to distribute naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that can block the effects of opioids, including prescription painkillers, and restore breathing in an overdose patient.

“We are pleased to be awarded funding to reduce this serious public health problem in Washington,” said Chris Imhoff, director of the DSHS Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery. “Over the five years of the project, overdose prevention resources will reach over 17,000 first-responders, medical professionals, pharmacies and community partners. This will save lives and help connect people with opioid use disorders with critical healthcare and treatment services.”

Seniors are vulnerable to overdoses. According to a study by the Gerontological Society of America between 2006 and 2012, about 11 percent of overdoses among older adults in the U.S. involved opiate. The study reviewed 71,000 cases involving older adults, the majority of them ages 65 to 74.

Washington’s grant is part of a federal initiative to improve opioid prescription practices, increasing the use of naloxone, and help more people get treatment for opioid misuse.

A partnership between DSHS and the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute will engage first-responders, pharmacies, healthcare providers, and local and regional communities to reduce the risk of overdose and death among people who use prescription opioids and heroin.

In Washington, about 600 people per year die from opioid overdose, according to DSHS. Naloxone can reverse an opiate overdose and serve as a catalyst for opioid abusers to seek treatment, officials said.