Vermont prison staff will carry opioid rescue medication Narcan after rise in overdoses

The Vermont Department of Corrections plans to more than double the number of staff carrying the overdose-reversal drug naloxone this week.

The state’s prison system will go from having 284 correctional officers trained in the use of the medication to 774 by Friday, Commissioner Michael Touchette said late last week.

The number includes staff members in the probation and parole departments.

Shift supervisors and health workers in the prison system began carrying naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, years ago, Touchette said. At least five overdoses have occurred in the prisons since July, triggering the expansion.

Overdoses are uncommon in the prisons, Touchette said, making the five an unusually high number

Earlier this month, two inmates at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton overdosed in a 24 hour period. Touchette said prison officials do not believe those were opioid-related, but naloxone is still administered when an inmate is unresponsive.

Naloxone only works on opioid-related overdoses. But Touchette said the expansion was still valuable.

Putting the naloxone in the hands of the correctional officers will cut down on response time if an overdose happens.

“This is really about saving lives,” Touchette said.

Another overdose occurred in the Chittenden facility last week, Touchette said. The person had recently been arrested.

Contraband drugs have long been smuggled into the prisons. Prison staff workers sometime sneak them in, as do some visitors. Drugs can be hidden in the mail as well, Touchette said.