Over the course of the past several years, the rates of heroin-related overdose death have only continued to skyrocket. In 2015, there were a total of 13,150 deaths throughout the US directly linked to heroin use. When combined with deaths caused by the use of other opiates, the number rose to 33,251. Over the past year, these shocking numbers have only continued to increase. The CDC (Center of Disease Control) recently reported that for the first time in history, heroin-related deaths have surpassed gun homicides. Deaths involving powerful synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) rose by nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015, and even more so the following year. “The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” stated CDC Director Tom Frieden. ‘Prescription opioid misuse and the use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
Congress recently passed a spending bill containing $1 billion allotted to combatting the opioid epidemic. A major portion of this money will go towards both prevention and the increased availability of addiction treatment. However, despite the passing of this bill, it seems that little action has been taken on a national level to help combat the steadily rising rates of overdose-related death. While politicians attempt to decide what can be done to curb this growing problem, many states have taken it upon themselves to work towards a solution. So far, the most beneficial state-by-state contribution to the countrywide heroin crisis has been making the drug Naloxone – used to counteract the deadly effects of an opioid overdose – available over the counter – what is narcan?
Naloxone was first approved by the FDA in 1971, and has recently gained rampant popularity as a ‘miracle drug’ – one capable of counteracting the effects of a potentially lethal overdose and bringing an unconscious individual back to life. The drug is an opioid antagonist, which means that it binds with opioid receptors in the brain in order to compete with other opioids that are present within the body. Not only does this drug prevent opioid receptors from binding with present opioids, but it effectively counteracts the physical effects of an overdose. While the unconscious individual may awake to intense physical illness, he or she will not die due to the high toxicity levels of the opioids he or she ingested.
Naloxone, while originally only offered as an intravenous injection, is now available (in most states) in a nasal application form. This makes administering the drug exceptionally simple, and legislators have begun to change laws that prohibit anyone without a medical license or prior training from administering the drug. While the majority of states now sell Naloxone over the counter at either CVS or Walgreens, it is not yet available everywhere. And even those that are able to purchase the drug may not be able to legally administer it. Administering the drug without the necessary credentials could leave you open to fines from state or local governments – be sure to look into the accessibility and legality in your specific region.
Hopefully soon, however, Naloxone will be available in all states, and available for all to use when necessary. The opioid antagonist has already saved countless lives, and has proven to be a major attribute in the fight against heroin abuse and addiction. Criminalization only further dissuades struggling individuals from seeking the help they need. The widespread social stigma pertaining to Narcan use and heroin addiction itself will only drive a larger wedge between the individuals that are in dire need of help and the accessibility of the services they need. Those who are suffering from life-threatening heroin addiction are more inclined to hide their problems from others, resulting in an inevitable worsening of symptoms… and eventually leading to overdose-related death.