Clark Memorial Health recently became the first hospital in Indiana to implement a naloxone vending machine, which provides free 24-hour access to the opioid overdose reversal drug.

Aaron Edwards, director of behavioral health services at Clark Memorial Health, is part of the team that was instrumental in getting the machine. 

He said its location just outside the emergency department and the ability to use it without having to talk to anyone are big advantages. 

“We wanted it to limit the barriers for people to get access,” he said. “So they don’t even have to come in, nobody has to see them, it can be done in private.”

Clark Memorial was one of 19 Indiana sites expected to get the first machines, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in December. They’re provided through a partnership with Overdose Lifeline, Inc. and the state’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction. 

And they come at a time when the need for the lifesaving naloxone has grown. 

Between April 2020 and 2021, Indiana saw a 32% increase in fatal overdoses. Clark County health officials reported last year was the deadliest for overdoses since 2016. 

Edwards said that increase is likely tied to two things – the way the pandemic initially reduced resources for people in recovery and the rise of the highly potent opioid fentanyl in street drugs. 

“Let’s say somebody was in recovery, pandemic hits, they can’t reach out to their recovery community, can’t get in for treatment, can’t go to their meetings,” Edwards said. “They relapse, they think, ‘Oh this is the amount of heroin I used to use,’ but it’s got fentanyl in it and it just knocks them flat.”

Behavioral health staff will inform patients at the hospital about the machine. 

“At discharge we’re going to let them know that, ‘Hey, if you use again or if you know somebody that’s using, we have this machine available,’” he said. 

He said it’s another step in reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorder. 

“When organizations like Clark Memorial take a step forward and say, ‘Hey we’re going to support people in this position,’ those kinds of things will reduce that stigma,” he said. 

Clark Memorial Health is located at 1220 Missouri Ave. in Jeffersonville. The machine holds 300 doses of the drug, and has already been refilled once in its first two weeks in use. 

Aprile Rickert is WFPL's health reporter.