As the number of drug overdoses involving opioids in Colorado increases, the state is allocating $1.8 million in funding for local agencies working with high-risk individuals to get naloxone — a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses — for free.

Gov. Jared Polis’ administration announced in a news release Wednesday that $1.8 million has been allocated to Colorado’s Naloxone Bulk Purchase Fund so eligible entities such as local law enforcement agencies, local governments and harm-reduction agencies can access the funds needed to purchase naloxone.

Naloxone is a life-saving drug that reverses overdoses to narcotic drugs like heroin and certain prescription medications, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said on its website. When administered, it can stabilize someone who has overdosed from opioids, providing time for emergency medical professionals to respond and provide necessary care, the news release said.

The state’s naloxone fund, administered by the state health department’s Overdose Prevention Unit, provided 98,314 doses of naloxone at no cost to 253 entities across Colorado from January 2019 to December 2021, the release said. The additional $1.8 million, which was made available through the American Rescue Plan Act, aims to meet the increasing demands for naloxone, as demand had exceeded the funding currently available, according to the release.

“We have an opioid epidemic in this country, and this news will help us more directly and robustly respond to it,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of Colorado’s health department.

A record-breaking 1,477 Coloradans died of drug overdoses in 2020, according to the Colorado Health Institute, and opioid overdoses increased by 54%, making up nearly two in three overdose deaths. The number of drug overdose deaths in 2021, although not released yet, is expected to surpass that record, given concerns over increased fentanyl deaths.

Because the state has naloxone standing orders, Coloradans do not need a prescription to purchase naloxone. Stop the Clock Colorado has an online map that lists locations of pharmacies that carry naloxone, which can come in the form of nasal spray, an auto-injection device and a vial of medication that can be injected or used as a nasal spray, according to the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

Signs of an opioid overdose include loss of consciousness, irregular breathing, choking sounds, vomiting and an inability to talk, according to the American Psychological Association. The association recommends calling 911 and administering naloxone if you suspect someone is overdosing.

“Everyone at risk of an overdose is loved by someone,” Hunsaker Ryan said. “As a result of increased access to naloxone, more organizations can distribute naloxone to persons at risk of overdose, and ultimately save lives.”

Eligible entities for the Naloxone Bulk Purchase Fund — including local public health agencies, school districts, law enforcement agencies and harm reduction agencies — must have a current standing order prior to submitting an application for funding. Both applications can be accessed and submitted through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website.

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