OHS Distributing Naloxone Kits to Employees Looking to Combat Opioid Crisis

By Sarah Hooper, contributing writer, Occupational Health Services
A nasal spray dose of NARCAN sits in front of its box

OHS is distributing naloxone nasal spray kits to employees. (Image by Tom Wolf, CC BY 2.0)

As COVID-19 tore across the U.S. in 2020, drug overdose deaths in Maryland rose to an all-time high. The grim statistic has since decreased slightly but remains higher than before the pandemic.

Occupational Health Services (OHS) is taking action against the crisis. For employees at NCI at Frederick and Frederick National Laboratory, that means a chance to learn more and make a real, life-saving difference.

The Occupational Health Clinic has partnered with the Maryland Department of Health by joining the Overdose Response Program and participating in Center for Harm Reduction initiatives. One initiative allows OHS to receive naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug known more commonly by the brand name NARCAN, from the Center for Harm Reduction and the Behavioral Health Administration.

Now, OHS is putting naloxone kits in employees’ hands in a push to reduce overdose deaths in the community and to protect, promote, and improve health and welfare.

Each kit contains two doses of naloxone nasal spray, equipping employees to save a life if they encounter someone suffering an overdose, wherever that may be. Approximately 40 kits have also been distributed to the National Institutes of Health Police stationed at NCI at Frederick and Fort Detrick.

The State of Maryland requires OHS to record where each kit has been distributed, but that information is kept confidential. Each employee’s privacy is respected.

There’s a big need for trained, prepared individuals who can recognize an overdose and administer naloxone before it’s too late. In 2020, Maryland’s record year, 2,799 people died of overdose. Of those, 2,518 suffered opioid-related deaths, and more than 90% of those involved fentanyl, a synthetic pain-management opioid that’s 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Left untreated, opioid overdose slows a person’s breathing until it gradually stops. They go comatose in many cases and eventually asphyxiate.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating opioid overdose since 1971, naloxone is a highly effective strategy for reducing overdose death. It has no harmful effects on someone who isn’t suffering an overdose, so it can be safely given in situations where a person’s condition is uncertain. Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law also protects bystanders who try to help in an overdose situation.

Still, OHS encourages employees to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of opioid overdose. These include small, “pinpoint” pupils; slow or shallow breathing; faint heartbeat; limpness; a choking, snoring, or gurgling sound; unconsciousness, or consciousness but an inability to reply or speak; vomiting; paleness; and blue- or purple-tinged skin, usually beginning with lips and fingernails.

OHS wants to play a key role in getting naloxone directly to people likely to experience or witness an overdose. This community distribution approach has been shown to be effective at reducing opioid-related deaths, while traditional pharmaceutical distribution doesn’t always work. In one study, few people used insurance to obtain their naloxone prescriptions after being released from the hospital for an opioid-related emergency.

In addition, bystanders have no risk of overdosing themselves when intervening to administer naloxone. Contrary to rumor, it isn’t possible for someone to overdose by being exposed to the trace amounts of fentanyl or other opioids that may be on an overdose victim’s hands, face, or clothing.

It’s crucial for bystanders to be ready to reverse an overdose in the community. Anyone can make a difference. The means are available through OHS.

OHS would like to provide naloxone kits to any employee to help reduce overdose deaths in Maryland. Request a kit by emailing ncifrederickohs@mail.nih.gov or calling Sarah Hooper at 301-846-5453.


Sarah Hooper is the occupational health manager at OHS, where she leads her team as they focus on keeping people safe and healthy within their work environment.