The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) has addressed the opioid epidemic in multiple ways, from establishing an educational series on the topic to creating opioid awareness toolkits to be used in communities throughout the state.
Now, the school is preparing to place ONEbox units – user-guiding boxes containing the overdose-reversing medication naloxone – at seven locations on and near its Lewisburg campus, including at the affiliated Robert C. Byrd Clinic, for use in the event of an opioid overdose emergency. When opened, the battery-powered boxes play a video that gives step-by-step instructions on how to administer the naloxone intranasally, much like automated external defibrillators that provide real-time instructions on saving the life of someone who is experiencing cardiac arrest.
Naloxone works by reversing the effects of opioids and can potentially save the life of an individual who is experiencing an overdose. The medication binds to opioid receptors, restoring normal respiration patterns that may have been slowed due to opioid use.
WVSOM and West Virginia’s two other medical schools are receiving ONEbox units thanks to a partnership between the nonprofit West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute (WVDII) and the West Virginia Collegiate Recovery Network (WVCRN). Susan Bissett, Ph.D., president of WVDII, explained what happens when a person uses the units.
“When you open the box, a 60-second video plays in which Jan Rader [director of the Mayor’s Council on Public Health and Drug Control Policy in Huntington, W.Va.] takes you through the process,” Bissett said. “She goes through everything from putting on the personal protective equipment to rolling a person into the recovery position and to making sure you call 911. She tells you how long to wait should you need to administer a second dose. And in case you miss a step, the video keeps replaying.”
WVSOM students already receive training in naloxone administration in case they encounter an overdose victim in a nonmedical setting. But ONEbox units can be utilized by members of the campus community who are untrained in the use of the medication, such as school employees.
ONEbox, designed in Huntington, WV, and purchased by WVDII in part through a grant from the Charleston, WV-based Maier Foundation, also can be used in non-emergency situations to train people in naloxone administration. Bissett said her organization hopes to place the units in numerous settings.
“The goal is to have them in more than just universities,” she said. “We’re working with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Drug Control Policy to get them into libraries throughout the state, and we’re talking with other entities, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, about placing them in a variety of settings, including correctional facilities, courthouses and schools.”
Barbara Holt, executive director of WVSOM’s Center for Rural and Community Health, said placing the units on campus will signal to other organizations the importance of decreasing the stigma placed on people who are battling substance use disorder, which will in turn encourage those individuals to seek recovery.
“WVSOM’s use of the boxes will help reduce the stigma surrounding substance use disorder and saving the lives of those who are dealing with it. The stigma is one of the reasons people don’t seek help, so if you lower the stigma, you help more people,” Holt said. “We’re hoping that because WVSOM is well respected in the community, others might say, ‘If they’re willing to install naloxone boxes, why shouldn’t we?’”
Jennifer Crane, a WVSOM peer recovery support specialist, will place business cards listing her contact information in the boxes in case an overdose victim wants to seek help to end substance use. Crane is available to provide support to students and employees as well as to individuals outside the WVSOM community.
West Virginia was hit hard by the opioid epidemic, but the state’s residents are resourceful, said Susie Mullens, WVCRN program coordinator.
“We hope to flip the script and have a solution coming from West Virginia,” Mullens said. “People talk all the time about West Virginia’s problems, so anytime we can contribute to a solution, it’s going to change that perception. It’s going to show people that change can happen.”