Ending the opioid crisis that claims the lives of tens of thousands of people annually is going to take years of hard, dedicated work. Saving the life of one person who has overdosed on opioids is surprisingly easy.

That was the lesson for U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Donald Elliman. Coffman and Elliman were at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences on Aug. 31 for a special event commemorating International Overdose Awareness Day.

The congressman and the chancellor were trained to use naloxone, a medication that saves lives by reversing opioid overdoses. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a nasal spray that is sprayed into an overdose victim’s nostrils. It quickly counteracts the effects opioids like heroin and prescription pain medication have on users and can revive someone dying from an opioid overdose in minutes. Other versions of naloxone include an auto-injector or a pharmacy assembled kit, but the nasal spray is the most popular in everyday use.

Multidisciplinary approach

School of Pharmacy Professor Robert Valuck, PhD, RPh, led the training. Valuck walked the audience through the few steps needed to administer naloxone before Coffman administered a sample dose (without the active ingredient) to a university employee.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman administering naloxone to attendee
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman administers a sample dose (without the active ingredient) of a nasal spray to Tyler Payne of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention during a recent event commemorating International Overdose Awareness Day at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Coffman also learned about what CU Anschutz is doing to fight the opioid epidemic. The School of Pharmacy is the home of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, which is Colorado’s anti-opioid epidemic task force. Its members include faculty from the CU Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmacy, the College of Nursing, and the Colorado School of Public Health, in addition to representatives from state agencies, law enforcement and community coalitions. Valuck is the consortium’s director.

In the past year, the consortium has consulted with state lawmakers about legislation, coordinated public awareness campaigns, supported research and helped distribute naloxone to community groups and law enforcement agencies.

Coffman was impressed with the consortium and CU Anschutz’s work.

“This is a model for the rest of the country,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any other way the state can affect the problem other than an interdisciplinary approach.”

CU Anschutz leadership sees how damaging the related opioid and overdose crises are. Elliman said the university is committed to its role in supporting the fight against the opioid epidemic.

In 2017, 1,012 people in Colorado died from drug overdoses; 560 people died from opioid overdoes, including heroin or prescription medication such as Vicodin or OxyContin.

Guest contributors: Article was written by Michael Davidson, a communications professional for the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention. The video was produced by Stephanie Carlson, content producer, marketing and communications, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.