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As public health issues surrounding opioids have deepened, one medication may be big enough to help yet handy enough to keep in a glove box.

Naloxone, available in nasal and injection forms, has taken a major role in overdose situations. Participants at North Dakota's annual behavioral health conference heard Tuesday the power behind the narcotic overdose drug.

Representatives of Community Medical Services in Minot and the Heartview Foundation, with centers in Bismarck and Cando, were on hand to discuss Naloxone and medication-assisted treatment before those gathered.

Eighty-three percent of people who administer Naloxone are drug users, Community Medical Services provider Wendy Moore said.

"It just really needs to be readily available to people who are currently using," she said of such locations as in malls, businesses and bathrooms similar to the availability of automated external defibrillators for heart attacks.

Naloxone costs about $72, covered by insurance and available at pharmacies, according to Moore. The drug, with a life of 18 months, should be stored at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. 

When administered, Naloxone blocks receptors in the brain, knocking off the opiate, said Moore, adding that overdose patients will be upset when they regain consciousness, as withdrawals will eventually set in.

"They really fear this," Moore said.

From there, it's the overdosed person's decision to seek emergency room help or treatment.

And treatment works, Kurt Snyder, executive director of the Heartview Foundation, said.

"We see success just like we see with our other programs," he said. "These are the toughest of the tough."

Opioid patients can seek medication-assisted treatment with substances such as buprenorphine and methadone, though treatment patterns are different for both, he said.

Mark Schaefer, of Community Medical Services, said his agency sees more than 80 percent of opioid patients no longer using. Locations in Minot and Fargo serve 75 and 93 patients, respectively, he said.

"There's a tremendous need," he said. "We know there's more people we have to get out to."

Collaboration among provider agencies has been key, according to Schaefer, adding that the Ward and Cass county jails have offered treatment to inmates to avoid withdrawals.

"Collaboration really, truly is the key integration we're working with," Schaefer said.

Still, areas of need persist, particularly rural and reservation communities.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services' Behavioral Health Division has looked at treatment plans for communities with no resources, said Snyder, adding that buprenorphine patients can travel, while daily doses of methadone are trickier to manage.

"They get well slowly," Snyder said. "They don't get well at our speed, and that's been one of our learning curves, is being patient."

The state's behavioral health conference continues through Friday.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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