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City of Wichita, Safe Streets distributing overdose recovery kits to combat opioid deaths

Emergency rooms are seeing a jump in opioid overdoses. Timely treatment with naloxone can reverse the effects of opioids.
Kevin Hagen for NPR
Naloxone is an intramuscular medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.

The kits will be distributed in areas considered to be “overdose hotspots,” which the city has identified as being along the Broadway corridor and West Kellogg.

The City of Wichita and Safe Streets, a community group focused on preventing drug-related deaths, will distribute kits equipped with naloxone vials and other resources necessary to administer the life-saving medication across the city.

The kits are being distributed to address the rising number of opioid overdose deaths in Sedgwick County – which is likely to be more than 300 in 2022, according to city documents.

“You cannot connect with someone and get them into recovery if they're dead,” said Lisa Vayda with Safe Streets.

In 2021, the county recorded more than 200 overdose deaths compared to 162 in 2020, according to the Regional Forensic Science Center.

Naloxone is an intramuscular medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. It’s also available as a nasal spray, but supply chain issues and rising costs of the spray mean it’s hard for community groups to afford it.

“We would love to be able to distribute Narcan nasal spray, but the cheapest that we can find it is somewhere around $25 to $30 a dose,” Vayda said.

The kits will be distributed in areas considered to be “overdose hotspots,” which the city has identified as being along the Broadway corridor and West Kellogg.

“Unfortunately, there's some drug use going on in some of those motels, hotels,” District 6 City Council member Maggie Ballard said. “I think one of the patterns that we see is a lot of people that are doing the drugs don't know that fentanyl is in whatever they're doing, whether it's pills or whatever.

“So they're not necessarily taking the drug to try to die, but with fentanyl in the drug that they're using it’s sometimes taking their life and that wasn't their intention.”

Funding for the kits is expected to last for five months – with about $20,000 coming from the city’s opioid settlement fund.

After that funding runs out, the city says it hopes that Narcan nasal spray will be available for nonprescription distribution once the Food and Drug Administration approves it, making it cheaper and easier for people to find at pharmacies.

“Between now and the end of the five-month period, our police department will be working with Safe Streets and other providers to determine a long-term strategy to continue distribution of the Narcan,” city manager Robert Layton said. “Not just to actual individuals, but to businesses and other agencies impacted by the overdose crisis.”

With the City Council approving funding for the kits, Safe Streets will distribute them to businesses and city departments that work with people affected by the fentanyl crisis.

The Wichita Police Department began training its officers on how to use Narcan last year and officers began carrying Narcan when responding to overdose calls.

Wichita firefighters and other personnel are also currently going through training on how to use naloxone when responding to overdose calls.

“Our police and fire department, for the longest time, didn't have the funding to be able to carry it,” Vayda said.

With naloxone being distributed more widely with city funding, Safe Streets says more lives can be saved.

“Naloxone is one of the most empirically supported strategies in preventing opioid overdoses,” said Ngoc Vuong with Safe Streets, “but especially in giving folks a second chance towards treatment and recovery.”

Interested people and businesses can contact Safe Streets to receive kits.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.