Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of injury in the United States. From 2001 to 2014 there was a 6-fold increase in deaths from heroin overdoses. Something had to be done. Then-Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, called for a serious expansion of prevention efforts. Enter: naloxone, also known as Narcan. This is a drug that, once injected into the body, blocks the opiate receptors in the brain. In short, it reverses the effects of an opiate-related, or heroin, overdose.
Contrary to popular misconception, naloxone is not a new drug, but has in fact been around since the 1960s.
In today’s environment of exploding opiate addiction, law enforcement officers carry the medication in case of life-threatening emergencies, and doctors prescribe the overdose antidote to patients taking opiate pain medications. As a result of this increased availability, the CDC reports more than 10,000 overdose reversals with naloxone by non-medical bystanders.
The debunking of five common naloxone myths was undertaken by drugabuse.com.
Myth #1: Naloxone Encourages Addicts to Take More Drugs
Truth: Research has shown that naloxone does not encourage more substance abuse. In fact, if anything, it decreases the use of opiates. When administered, naloxone blocks the effects of opiate drugs and causes an addict to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Myth #2: Naloxone Prevents Addicts from Seeking Treatment
Truth: There is nothing to indicate that naloxone discourages addicts from entering a rehab program. If anything, this is the one drug that can save addicts from certain death and offer them a chance to get professional help. The near-death experience often serves as a catalyst to get clean and sober.
Myth #3: Naloxone is Only Given by Syringe
Truth: Some people have a serious phobia when it comes to using needles. Fortunately, naloxone comes in alternate delivery forms. For example, Evzio is a kind of naloxone auto-injector that painlessly and easily delivers a life-saving dose of the medication. In addition to intramuscular injections, the overdose antidote can also be administered via an intranasal spray. The thing to remember is that the injectable form of naloxone takes effect much quicker than the nasal spray. If the signs and symptoms indicate a life-or-death emergency, giving the medication via syringe is a better option.
Myth #4: Naloxone is Expensive
Truth: As with most medications, the price of naloxone depends on where you purchase it. Additionally, most insurance providers will pay for this medication. Even without prescription coverage, naloxone is a relatively inexpensive drug and, even better, there are plenty of community outreach programs currently providing the overdose antidote for free.
Myth #5: Only Doctors Can Prescribe naloxone
Truth: The FDA recently held a meeting to discuss what steps would be needed in order to increase access to naloxone on a national level. Though legal policies vary by state, most are already providing increased access to the medication. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants are generally allowed to prescribe naloxone to patients who are at risk of an opiate overdose. What’s more, a variety of community outreach programs now provide access to naloxone.
Community-based programs have been in operation since the 1990s, with naloxone being used by an increasing number of those programs since 1996. Services include education regarding overdose risk factors, recognition of signs of opioid overdose, appropriate responses to an overdose, and administration of naloxone.
A Harm Reduction Coalition survey of 50 programs (representing 188 local programs) showed that in the US, more than 53,000 people have been trained in overdose response, and more than 10,000 rescues with naloxone have been reported.