Last November, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a nasal spray that can prevent someone in the throes of an opioid overdose from dying. While this is good news for people at risk of overdose, it does not address the underlying problem of addiction.
Narcan saves but doesn’t stop
The FDA approved the use of Narcan by first-responders and qualified caregivers. A blast of Narcan into one nostril delivers a dose of naloxone equivalent to an intramuscular injection. Narcan requires no assembly. It functions like an asthma inhaler.
Naloxone is widely used as an antidote for opioid overdoses. It is so successful the World Health Organization believes it can save 20,000 lives in the U.S each year. But naloxone does nothing to prevent the pervasive use of and addiction to prescription and illicit opioids.
The opioid overdose epidemic
The FDA’s action is a response to the nationwide heroin scourge. Heroin overdose deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. In 2013, over 8,200 people fatally overdosed on the drug. The fast-tracking of the treatment is also a response to the looming prescription opioid problem plaguing every demographic in the county. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 40 people die each day from overdosing on prescription painkillers.
What emergency medical professionals say
With heroin and prescription opioid users dropping dead like mayflies, something had to be done. But a website maintained by and for emergency medical service personnel makes clear the fact that naloxone is cutting down deaths, but that doesn’t mean fewer people are abusing prescription and illicit opioids.
According to the site, in the first half of 2015, there were 648 opioid-related deaths in Maryland – 69 more than in the first six months of 2014. But there were 204 more overdose deaths over that period in 2014.
In an article titled “Narcan Preventing Deaths, Not Solving Addiction Problems,” Jon Kelvey writes, “The ranks of users, friends, family members and others carrying the opioid antidote might soon swell even further after the Dec. 14 order from [Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] that will allow pharmacies to dispense naloxone to anyone who has completed a training class in its administration, without the need for a doctor’s prescription.”
More is not always better
Kelvey notes increasing the ranks of individuals who can deliver Narcan has repercussions. Despite training, the person giving Narcan might not deliver enough to counteract the effects of the opioid. Naloxone also dissipates over time. There have been cases of individuals being revived, only to overdose later because the opioid is still in their bloodstream.
Kelvey conclude the piece with a quote from Westminster, Maryland, firefighter, who says, “[Naloxone] does make a difference; if it saves one life, it’s worth it. It doesn’t address the root of the problem, their [users] tendencies and everything else, why they are doing it … it needs to be treated across the board.”
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About the author:
Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at email@example.com.