VA hospitals to add naloxone to AED cabinets

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The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to stock the opioid overdose antidote naloxone in its automated external defibrillator cabinets at facilities nationwide starting in December, according to NPR

VA Boston Healthcare System is leading the way in this effort. The health system placed naloxone in its AED cabinets after a 2015 incident in which a housekeeper found an overdosed patient in the bathroom at the VA facility, and the hospital had to wait for EMTs to arrive to administer naloxone.  

"That was the tipping point for us to say, 'We need to get this naloxone immediately available, without locking it up,'" Pam Bellino, patient safety manager at the Boston VA, told NPR.

Ms. Bellino said she thought the easiest way to improve access to naloxone during an overdose situation was to add the drug to existing AED cabinets in the VA cafeterias, gyms, warehouses, clinic waiting rooms and some rehab housing facilities.

The VA had to lobby The Joint Commission to approve guidelines for the initiative. Per the accrediting body's regulations, the cabinets must be sealed and alarmed so staff can identify if they’ve been opened. The cabinets must also be checked daily and refilled when the naloxone kits expire.

The Joint Commission did not permit the VA putting the words "naloxone" or "Narcan" on the exterior of the doors to alert the public to the antidote inside, but did allow the agency to put the letter "N" on the outside of the cabinet.

Ms. Bellino said she would like AED manufacturers to start selling cabinets that meet these new accreditation standards. So far, the Boston VA has saved 132 lives by implementing naloxone in its facilities, among other efforts.

"Think of this as you would a seat belt or an airbag," Ms. Bellino told NPR. "It by no means fixes the problem, but what it does is save a life."

More articles on opioids: 

CBO analyzes House opioids bill: 3 things to know
Nurse who lost sons to opioids becomes advocate for prescription drug safety
Congress releases final opioids bill: 4 things to know

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