MONTPELIER -- A bulletin board in the HowardCenter Safe Recovery center near downtown Burlington shows check marks made in the last six months when a heroin antidote drug has been used to revive someone found unresponsive after using opiates.
By the end of June, the bulletin board had 37 check marks -- equivalent to more than one a week -- since the Vermont Health Department began distributing the Naloxone kits directly to addicts, their friends or their family members.
"It helped generate interest," said Tom Dalton, coordinator for the HowardCenter's Safe Recovery program. "And they see that and think, ‘Wow, it's really working."'
The Vermont Legislature passed a law last year that allows people close to addicts to distribute Naloxone to them. The same law also made it possible for people to call for help for an overdosing addict without fear of being prosecuted.
The law was passed before Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State speech in January to the state's struggle with heroin and other opiate drugs.
In December, the Vermont Health Department began distributing the Naloxone kits to five locations that provide services to drug users. The Health Department says 38 kits were used in the first six months, with 37 of those distributed by the HowardCenter.
Officials can't say whether the kits saved any lives. They say it's possible some users would have survived without the Naloxone, but the kits aren't given unless the victim is unresponsive. It's likely many would have died.
Dalton said he worried that clients wouldn't want the kits because they are required to go through training, but they were well received.
"People were very excited about it," Dalton said. "They felt like it was a very positive development and were willing to do the brief training."
Clients are asked to report back when the kits are used. It gives outreach workers the opportunity to replace the kits, and it's a chance to talk, Dalton said.
"Of the people that are currently using, having a conversation about overdose and how common overdose is, getting them thinking about their health and their welfare, also gives us an opportunity to talk about treatment," Dalton said.
Dalton and others are still collecting the stories of people who have used the kits. In one case, Dalton said, a kit was offered to a couple who declined it, but they later used one given to another recipient, Dalton said.
Kits have also been distributed in White River Junction, which also serves New Hampshire clients, and in the Vermont towns of Rutland, St. Johnsbury and Berlin.
Outside Burlington, there has been one confirmed successful use of the kit to reverse the effects of an overdose. That kit was distributed in White River Junction as part of a program run by the HIV/HCV Resource Center, of Lebanon, New Hampshire, said executive director Laura Byrne.
"I think it's hugely successful," Byrne said. "I think the kits are getting to people who use them."