Narcan Doesn’t Solve the Heroin Epidemic

Narcan Doesn’t Solve the Heroin Epidemic

Narcan Isn’t a Silver Bullet

Narcan, also know by its chemical name naloxone, is literally a lifesaver. It reverses the effects of opioids on people who overdose. The drug has gained popularity over the last few years and is being hailed by some as “the solution to heroin addiction.”

image via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, this isn’t the case. While Narcan is extremely helpful in reversing overdoses, it isn’t a magic bullet. It saves lives, but it doesn’t heal them. To bring someone back from the hell of active addiction, fearless soul searching (aka treatment!) is needed.

That’s the gist of this article I recently stumbled upon. It’s a great primer on the benefits and drawbacks of Narcan.

So, what can this lifesaving chemical do and what can’t it do? More to the point, how can we help those suffering from addiction find long-term recovery? How can we offer them real hope?

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A REAL Solution

Naloxone is often the first step down the lifelong road of recovery. It’s just that, though, a first step. More is needed. Kathleen, a woman quoted in the above article, echoes this sentiment. She says,

“There are little windows of opportunity with an addict, little windows where I wake up and say, ‘I can’t f—king do this anymore. Either I got to die or please help me. That window will last for four hours. Then somebody will call and be like, ‘I got some s—t.'”

While Narcan can save a suffering addict’s life, while it can give them that window of opportunity, it doesn’t get them into treatment or a twelve-step fellowship. That comes from old-fashioned willingness.

It’s worth noting that, in America at least, there aren’t a ton of treatment options given to addicts who overdose. They’re generally brought back to consciousness in the ER, monitored for a few hours, and then sent on their way. They’re given contact numbers for local treatment centers and twelve-step supports, but that’s it.

What I’m proposing is that treatment centers partner with hospitals to provide the care these addicts so desperately need. Imagine if someone overdoses and is brought into a local Emergency Room. They’re stabilized and willing to seek help. How amazing would it be if there was an addiction specialist available to talk right away?

That would begin to change the cycle of overdose, relapse, overdose, relapse that so many addicts go through. To put it another way – that would facilitate recovery like nothing currently in place.

It’s important to note that I’m not dismissing Narcan. In fact, it has some amazing benefits. There’s a reason it’s now the first line of defense in our country’s war against heroin. Let’s examine what exactly those are.

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What Narcan Does

Naloxone is a pure opioid antagonist. That means it clears the body of all opioid molecules and reverses their effects in mere minutes. While naloxone has been around since the 1960’s, it’s only become popular in the last ten years.

drug overdose

Narcan can be administered orally, intravenously (IV), intramuscularly (IM), via an intranasal spray, and rectally. Its onset depends on the method of administration, but it generally takes effect within minutes.

An opioid overdose consists of things like extreme central nervous system and respiratory depression, decreased heartbeat, and dangerously low blood pressure. Naloxone reverses these symptoms as soon as it takes effect.

It then sends the users into opioid withdrawal, which isn’t pleasant. However, addicts are usually more likely to accept help while they’re detoxing (think that window of opportunity mentioned above).

Naloxone is now available without a prescription in many states. In fact, there are over 200 licensed naloxone distribution programs in the United States.

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Narcan & Rehab = Changed Lives

Okay, Narcan has some major benefits. That much is plain to see. So, how do we take the next step? How do we move from using Narcan to save lives to implementing drug treatment options after an overdose?

As I mentioned above, the answer comes in the form of hospitals, police officers, EMT’s, and other first responders partnering with treatment centers. It’s one thing to save someone’s life. It’s another to give them their life back. Let’s start doing both!

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