Naloxone: Fighting the American Drug Overdose Epidemic One Life at a Time

Naloxone helps overdose victims

Known as the “opioid antagonist,” Naloxone has established itself as an antidote of sorts to opioid painkiller and heroin overdose, preventing thousands of deaths since the World Health Organization placed the drug on its list of essential medications in 1983.

Though it has saved many lives, there is still much to do to bring more awareness to Naloxone and to make it readily available in all fifty states. In a country where drug overdose runs wild as a massive epidemic, Naloxone is a vital method to reducing deaths caused by drug misuse and addiction.

It may not be the cure, but for many who have faced death and walked away, it is the first stepping stone to recovery. All this secret opioid warrior needs now is the spread of knowledge.

What is it?

Naloxone, also known as Narcon, is a medication used to block or reverse the effects of opioid medication, particularly as an emergency medical treatment for overdosing.

It’s been available for decades and has been used for common treatment to opioid medication, such as for patients after surgery or for newborns to decrease the effects of opioid medication provided to pregnant mothers during labor.

How does it work?

Naloxone comes in the form of a liquid solution, which can be injected into the person in need, but recent developments have also provided a nasal spray as an alternative to needle injection.

There are three methods to giving someone a Naloxone injection: intravenous, muscle, and nasal. The effects occur within minutes, proving to be a vital accessory when battling against life or death overdose emergencies.

Should you notice the symptoms of an opioid and/or heroin overdose, then immediate Naloxone injection is necessary, even before paramedics arrive.

Signs of an opioid and/or heroin overdose are:

  • little to no breathing or very shallow breaths
  • extreme sleepiness, where the person is unable to wake up even if you shake or yell at them
  • slow or erratic heartbeat, possibly not there at all
  • small, pinpoint pupils

Even if you do not have medical training, inject anyway through their thighs or their buttocks, then wait for EMTs to arrive.

An important reminder that Naloxone cannot replace professional medical attention, so even if you notice opioid overdose symptoms begin to subside, do not assume the person in need has been cured.

Because Naloxone serves to block or reverse opioid effects, the person can experience withdrawal symptoms or an allergic reaction. So always call for medical help.

Does this mean I can have Naloxone in my home/possession?

Yes.

On March 29, 2016, kaléo, a private pharmaceutical company, announced the introduction of EVZIO®, a naloxone HCI auto-injector.

This marks EVZIO as the first FDA-approved take-home naloxone (THN) that is specifically designed and labeled for the emergency treatment of opioid overdose by those who do not have medical training.

It has an intelligent, Auto-injection system that features audio instruction of how to use EVZIO, which proves remarkably successful for those who get too nervous in a high-stress and high-stakes emergency situation. There is also a visual guide with a set of instructions provided with each injection.

Back in November 2015, Narcan announced its FDA-approved nasal spray as an alternative to syringe or auto-injection, like EVZIO.

This method would only require a spray up one nostril, making it an easier and safer method of injecting Naxolone into the body. The spray avoids any needles, thus avoiding accidental contamination, and its effects are just as instantaneous.

There are several other unapproved THN kits available, but all of them—including EVZIO and Narcan—require a medical prescription. In some cases, such as in Baltimore, you can go to a Naxolone-specific center and obtain a prescription through them.

Feel free to ask your doctor or local health clinic if Naxolone kits and/or centers are available in your state and for more information.

Where is it available then? Is it going to be available soon?

Technically speaking, Naloxone is legally available everywhere, but the amount of take-home naloxone programs does not meet the demand. So while you can get Naloxone, the ease of its accessibility may differ in each state.

Some states, like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have several naloxone programs for patients and/or caregivers to obtain TNH. Others, like Florida, have none, despite having high percentages in opioid overdoses.

As reported in June 2014, there have been a reported 644 naloxone programs across 30 states, including Washington, D.C.; the first Naloxone program having established itself in 1996.

Several thousands of deaths have been prevented as programs began to implement themselves across the country and this trend will only keep growing the more awareness is spread about Naloxone.

With studies proving that take-home naxolone programs reduce overdose mortality and have a low rate of adverse events, some say that the Naxolone antidote should be an additional standard for opioid overdose prevention and a staple in first-aid kits to be kept at home.

But doesn’t this encourage more drug use?

No.

Having an antidote for opioid overdose might seem like a slap on the wrist at first glance, but it isn’t. Naxolone saves lives; it prevents people from dying.

For most people who have gone through an overdose and lived to tell the tale because of Naxolone, this is rock bottom and thus the first step to recovery. By no means is this a pleasant experience that would encourage anyone to hit the high minutes later.

Alexander Walley is one of the pioneers of THN programs, having rescued several opioid and heroin addicts since the late 1990s. By providing a safe haven for substance abusers and a method to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, Walley has lead people along the path to recovery and continues to do so to this day.

Naxolone should not be regarded as a cure for opioid overdose, but as a method of preventing it.

In Baltimore, training was given to participants in the city’s drug treatment program, as an educational outreach to prevent heroin and opioid overdose deaths. A broader good Samaritan law was also passed to “give immunity to anyone who administers Naloxone to someone who is believed to be experiencing an opioid overdose.”

So, no. Naloxone is not a second chance to continue doing drugs. It’s a second chance at living.

How can I help?

Spread the word!

Chances are, unless you’re knee-deep in the substance abuse world, you may not have ever heard of Naloxone before.

This is an antidote not just for “junkies,” but for anyone who may have accidentally taken an extra dosage of their opioid painkillers and overdosed as result, which happens to all sorts of people, like the elderly. It could mean saving someone from a suicide attempt. It could mean saving an opioid/heroin addict and giving them an opportunity to recover. It could mean saving lives.

A short documentary—about sixteen minutes long—was made by the Reach For Me foundation to call attention to the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States and promotes Naloxone awareness. You can view the video here:

You can search for THN programs in your area to ask for more information and see what you can do to help your community. The Overdose Prevention Alliance has provided an OD Prevention Program Locator, which you can use here.

And if there are no programs in your area, Toward the Heart is a provincial harm reduction program dedicated to teaching others how to open their own THN programs and spread Naloxone awareness to their communities. You can view and read their guides here.

Effort can be as simple as talking about Naloxone. You never know who you will reach by simply bringing the subject up.

Curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat. Sometimes it saves it.

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