This last month, I observed a Naloxone Training Program at the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC), just south of Seattle, Washington. The program is not only an example of the jail’s public health approach, it shows the crucial role that the criminal justice system can play in preventing overdose deaths.
During my visit, I witnessed the participation of two young women in the program, which provides training in the use of naloxone, a medicine that reverses the effects of opioid overdose. The voluntary program, run by the pharmacist in the jail’s health unit, teaches incarcerated individuals how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose. Participants watch a short film outlining the steps to take in case of overdose, including how to administer naloxone. The program also emphasizes the benefits of “Good Samaritan” laws, which provide immunity to most criminal charges when someone witnessing an overdose calls 911.
Upon completion of the program, a naloxone kit is added to the personal possessions that the incarcerated person picks up upon release. Studies have shown that an individual is most at-risk for overdose in the two-week window after incarceration. This program is placing naloxone in the hands of those who are most likely to encounter opioid overdoses. And it’s saving lives.
The pharmacist told me about a young man who had participated in MRJC’s Naloxone Training Program. After his release from prison, the man talked with his mom about how to recognize an overdose and how to correctly use the naloxone kit. A few weeks later, she found him unresponsive on their bathroom floor. She administered the naloxone and he quickly regained consciousness. Because of the Naloxone Training Program, this young man has another chance at life.
To date, MRJC has dispensed 179 naloxone kits. Imagine the impact we could have if criminal justice facilities throughout the country had similar programs. Each naloxone kit can save a life, so let’s put them in the hands of those who can make a difference.
 Ingrid A. Binswanger et al., Mortality After Prison Release: Opioid Overdose, and Other Causes of Death, Risk Factors, And Time Trends From 1999 To 2009, 159(9), Annals Internal Med. 592, 592–93 (2013)