At least 17 states in America, as well as first responders in the District of Columbia, have been trained to publicly administer the heroin overdose antidote called Narcan, and at least 10 states allow for prescriptions to family or friends of drug users who worry that they will lose their loved one to addiction. While the drug has saved an estimated 10,000 lives, many officials are wary of its use, saying that an increase in its availability is causing public health problems.
Officials in New Castle, Pennsylvania say the drug is giving users a false sense of, giving them the confidence to engage in more risky behavior with the belief that when they overdose, they’ll be brought back from death. While inarguably, the drug, recently approved for first responders in New Castle, saves lives. But the city has also seen its share of “repeat offenders” – drug addicts that overdose on opiates multiple times in a week, and sometimes, more than one time a day, causing concern and frustration among public officials.
Studies have shown that Narcan, if widely available, could have the public health benefit of slicing fatal heroin overdoses in half. In the United States, over 15,000 people die each year from opioid pain relievers overdoses such as Oxycontin, a rate that has grown rapidly and more than tripled since 1990.
Addiction advocates believe that the medication should be made available over-the-counter since it has little potential for abuse, and even when taken in excess, is nontoxic. Many public health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse have supported making Narcan more widely available.
The Food and Drug Administration, (FDA) however, has no policy for allowing over-the-counter usage of medication approved in an injectable form, and is unlikely to approve the antidote in its current form. Experts say that a pharmaceutical company needs to develop a safer form of the drug, preferably an intranasal version, the agency isn’t likely to OK over-the-counter sales.
In many cases, the drug is a lifesaver, but the total cost of the drug is still costly to public health services. The antidote could lead to more risk-taking behavior, and, as a Catch 22, more fatal overdoses. Only about 50% of overdoses are reached in time to administer the life-saving antidote, and more often than not, paramedics in New Castle said that they had to use two and three vials of Narcan to revive people from overdoses.
“It’s like a double dog dare you. They keep pushing the limits, knowing we’ll be there to bring them back,” Butler, Pennsylvania Mayor Tom Donaldson told local news affiliate WPSI. Sadly, many addicts who overdose on opiates still won’t be reached in time for the medication to be effective.
The best way to prevent opiate overdose is to never pick up the drug, and offer treatment for the disease of addiction for those who are ready. Often it takes an extreme circumstance such as an overdose for an individual to hit bottom and admit they have problem with drugs. Once an individual recognizes they need to change, there must be accessible treatment options available in the community and a support system to guide them along the way.