Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Nonprofit HIPS has started giving out naloxone to clients this week as part of a pilot program with the D.C. Department of Health.

The public-health group, which runs a needle exchange and provides counseling to at-risk populations, announced in a release on Wednesday that it is training individuals it serves to administer the opioid antagonist and handing out intranasal naloxone kits for free. HIPS notes that naloxone has been around since the 1960s but hasn’t been made widely accessible to the public, including “drug users, friends, family members, [and] service providers” who often are the first to respond to people overdosing.

The District recorded 116 deaths “as a direct result of prescription and/or illicit drug use” in 2014, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. But outside of the pilot program, residents are required by law to have a prescription to get naloxone.

“It is time that D.C. joins other jurisdictions across the country who have not only permitted community-­based organizations to disseminate naloxone and pharmacists to prescribe it to patients and third ­parties but have also strengthened their Good Samaritan laws,” HIPS says. Those laws are designed to protect from jeopardy people who call for help during a drug overdose.

The D.C. Council is also considering legislation introduced in February by Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander that would allow physicians and pharmacists to prescribe opioid antagonists to at-risk people and those “in a position to assist” them. It would also offer limited liability to prescribers. 

“Naloxone should be widely available and easy to obtain​for anyone who uses opioids, or is in a position to witness an opioid­related overdose and save a life,” says Kaitlyn Boecker of the Drug Policy Alliance in a statement. ​”Expanding naloxone access will spare countless District families from enduring the heart­wrenching loss of a loved one to an overdose.”

The drug was the subject of a City Paper cover story last year. HIPS opened a new center at 906 H St. NE last year.