Shipments of naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, are continuing to leave Direct Relief’s warehouse, bound for health providers working to prevent overdose deaths in Puerto Rico, which they say have increased since Hurricane Maria.
In March, Direct Relief shipped naloxone to health facilities across the island, including NeoMed Health, Centro de Servicios Primarios and Camuy Health Services. In addition to the opioid reversing drug, the shipment contained requested needles and syringes with which to administer naloxone, as well as sharps containers and other items to support the effort.
Naloxone was also shipped to Corporacion SANOS, a health center in Caguas, located an hour south of San Juan. The facility not only offers primary healthcare to patients, but also mental health and addiction recovery services.
Dr. Luis Roman, a psychologist at SANOS, is one of the clinicians working to make sure people at risk of overdose have naloxone when they need it.
After Maria, the alarm bells began to go off with Roman and his staff, who said they began seeing more overdoses.
“We began to see the crisis increasing,” he said, adding that the desperation of the hurricane’s aftermath compromised the mental health of many, and also limited access to drug treatment services.
Adding to an already desperate situation, the drugs themselves seemed to be becoming more deadly. Roman said that opioids like heroin have been mixed with fentanyl, a drug that is exponentially stronger and can easily cause an overdose.
Seeing the increased need, SANOS began to step up their efforts to connect patients with recovery resources. The clinic started receiving patients from other clinics too overwhelmed to continue mental health or addiction services after Maria.
Dr. Roman began to request naloxone from Direct Relief, and first requested 500 doses of the medication, offering it to patients and their families so they could have it on hand to prevent an overdose. He’s continued to request shipments of the medicine to support their efforts.
Twice a month, Dr. Roman and his team bring the clinic’s mobile unit on a route through the city to treat patients that may need addiction recovery services. The team includes a physician, a nurse, a case manager and a psychologist, and they’ll see anyone who needs care. As part of that, the team distributes naloxone, provides primary care, nutritional assistance or refers patients to other services.
Direct Relief is distributing up to 1 million doses of the life-saving drug to healthcare providers around the country as part of a four-year commitment from Pfizer. Through 2018, 143,590 doses were shipped to providers in 45 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.