NARCAN Saves Lives as Opioid Overdoses Rise in Kearney Area | Local News

ByDonald L. Leech

Feb 19, 2022

KEARNEY — As COVID has dominated the headlines for the past two years, another health plague is quietly nibbling around the edges: opioids.

Opioid overdoses are on the rise in the Kearney area and beyond. Overdoses have doubled statewide in the past four years, according to Hailey Jelinek, a health educator with the Two Rivers Public Health Department.

“Unfortunately, like the entire county, the opioid epidemic has grown in Nebraska,” said Matthew Walter, EMS manager at CHI Health Good Samaritan. “Over the past few years, our EMS service here at Good Sam has seen an increase in the total number of overdose calls.”

In 2019, EMS responded to 65 overdose calls. This jumped to 90 calls in 2020 and 103 calls in 2021. Because of this, Good Sam EMS ambulances are now carrying more NARCAN than before due to the potency of some of the drugs they encounter, Walter said. .

NARCAN Nasal Spray, also known as naloxone, can reverse symptoms of opioid overdose. Its use reflects the rise in overdoses here. Good Sam EMS teams administered it 11 times in 2019, 16 times in 2020, and 22 times in 2021.

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Chris Watts, pharmacist and co-owner of Valley Pharmacy, holds NARCAN, a nasal spray that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose. Most Nebraska residents can get it for free at some pharmacies after answering a few simple questions.

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Opioids are used to reduce pain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids include heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers including codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone (Vicodin.)

According to the NIDA, opioids are generally safe when taken with a doctor’s prescription, but they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, often leading to overdoses and misuse. Even regular use of prescriptions can lead to addiction. When misused, opioid painkillers can lead to addiction, overdoses, and death.

Here in Nebraska, this misuse is on the rise. “From 2018 to 2021, overdoses increased by 20 (percent) to 35 percent,” Jelinek said. Its numbers come from a three-year surveillance report based on records submitted to the Nebraska Ambulance Rescue Service’s electronic information systems.

NARCAN is a nasal spray (naloxone) that can be used to prevent death in an emergency from opioid overdose. NARCAN can be given anywhere, Jelinek said. It is needle free. Inhalation is not necessary and does not require any specialized training.

It is offered free to the public through a state program called Nebraska Safe Prescribe, which aims to educate doctors about prescribing certain medications. The NSP website says, “Opioid addiction is not a weakness. It’s a disease.”

About a year ago, the state licensed all state pharmacies to offer NARCAN. Valley Pharmacy at 211 W. 33rd St. and U-Save Pharmacy at 3611 Second Ave. applied for this opportunity. It is now available free of charge, without a prescription, to almost anyone who wants it.

Eric Hamik, pharmacy manager at U-Save, said any Nebraska resident can stop by, answer five informational questions, and get NARCAN at no cost. “If they meet the criteria, they can get it, but we haven’t handed out a lot of money,” he said.

Eric Hamic

Eric Hamic

Chris Watts, co-owner and pharmacist at Valley Pharmacy, echoed that. Watts asks people if they are allergic to its main ingredients, including naloxone hydrochloride, and if any family member is at risk of an overdose.

Beyond that, “Anyone who needs it qualifies. Our goal is to put it in places where people at risk of overdose can have it available. People don’t come and say they use illegal drugs, but they might say they need them for their neighbour. It’s OK,” Watts said.

Hamik, who also worked with Nebraska Safe Prescribe, said NARCAN costs $150 for one or two doses, so few people buy it. “It was a big hurdle, between personal insurance copayments and deductibles,” he said. Now, its free status makes it much more accessible.

Jelink noted that opioids are extremely addictive. Anyone can become addicted to opioids. A person in pain after surgery or an accident may not remember when they last took their medication and may be taking too much without knowing it.

The dangers also lurk beyond the prescriptions. Jelinek watched a video in which addicts unknowingly bought drugs containing fentanyl, which is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine and can be deadly. A person can overdose on a grain of fentanyl.

Counterfeit pills are particularly dangerous. “People think they’re getting opioids from a doctor, but counterfeit pills are huge,” she said. “They are so addicting.”

Signs of opioid overdose include blue lip skin or nails; spot the pupils in the eyes; choking or snorting noises like gurgling; slow or irregular smooth breathing; slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, and insensitivity to voice or touch.


NARCAN Nasal Spray, or Naxolone, can immediately reverse an opioid overdose. It was developed for first responders and family, friends and caregivers, with no medical training required.


Jelink said anyone who finds someone who’s overdosed should call 911 immediately, “but hopefully they’ll have NARCAN nearby.” I want people whose family members have substance abuse issues to be prepared. It is readily available. Come in and take it. Just having is the best way to start,” Jelinek said.

“Nobody ever says, ‘I’m going to overdose today,'” she said. “Having NARCAN is just a smart thing to do. If I just had surgery, or someone I love has had surgery and is taking narcotics, NARCAN is the right thing to have. I wish everyone could afford to pick it up.

Anyone taking prescribed opioids is at risk for an opioid overdose, Hamik said. “Even for a household with a cancer patient, there is always a risk. A person could accidentally take more of a prescribed opioid than they should, or take other medications at the same time. A child could also get their hands on an opioid,” he said.

Watts added: “We would like as many people as possible to have NARCAN at their fingertips at home. We’re not saying that everyone abuses drugs, but what if a child takes a prescription drug, for example? »

Jelinek said some states automatically give NARCAN to anyone filling an opioid prescription, but that’s not done in Nebraska. However, anyone can walk into a U-Save or Valley pharmacy and say, say, a roommate has an addiction, fill out the form, and get NARCAN for free.

“Or, you say your mom moved in with you and she tends to take two pills when only one is prescribed. Or say your son is on opioids. You tell the pharmacist you want to have NARCAN under the hand, and you will get it,” Jelinek said.

Jelinek added that law enforcement officers and state park rangers all carry NARCAN now.

She is working hard to enroll more area pharmacies in NARCAN. In surrounding counties, Mark’s U-Save in Callaway has it, as does Feral’s Pharmacy in McCook.

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As a health educator, Jelinek attends trainings and webinars. She monitors behavioral health issues, attends state meetings, and hosts focus groups with law enforcement “and what they’re seeing in our seven counties.”

She has developed a crisis plan outlining available services for opioid prevention that will be sent to all emergency rooms in the seven counties of Two Rives.

She is also the Two Rivers Grants Coordinator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Overdose Data to Action, which helps provide detailed data on drug overdoses and uses that data to inform the public and prevent overdoses.

She invited people from the medical examiner’s office to talk about the opioid crisis and what autopsies of overdose victims reveal. “We even had a child who died. It was unfortunate, but true,” she said.

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