Tag: naloxone

The Heroin Epidemic is Getting Worse in New Jersey

New Jersey’s Alarming Heroin Problem

new jersey heroin statistics

The heroin epidemic is still raging across the United States. In fact, a recently released Center for Disease Control study found that heroin use has more than doubled in the last ten years.

And bad as the situation is across the country, it’s even worse in New Jersey.

According to multiple reports, the percentage of NJ residents using, and dying from, heroin is much higher than the national average. According to NJ Advance Media, the rate of fatalities due to heroin overdose in New Jersey is upwards of three times the national rate.

As if that wasn’t enough, heroin overdoses claim more lives than murder, suicide, car accidents, and AIDs. In Camden and Atlantic counties, overdoses are deadlier than the flu and pneumonia combined, according to NJ.com.

There were 741 heroin-related deaths in 2013 alone. That number rose to 781 in 2014. This breaks down to just over eight deaths per 100,000 residents. The national average for heroin-related deaths per 100,000 people is 2.6.

These numbers put New Jersey at almost four times the national rate of heroin overdose deaths.

It’s clear something needs to be done, but what? Well, before we can begin to implement a solution, we need to take a closer look at the problem itself.

Why is NJ Being Hit So Hard?

Despite being deadlier than the national average, New Jersey’s heroin problem isn’t that different than anywhere else. They’ve been hit hard because the demographics of heroin abuse and overdose are rapidly changing.

For decades the “traditional” heroin addict has been male, African-American, in his late 30s to 40s, and of lower socioeconomic status. That’s all changing. Today’s typical heroin addict is either a man or woman, in the 18 to 25 age bracket, and solidly middle-class.

While this shift’s been occurring, “traditional” heroin addicts continue to be seduced by the drug. This all culminates in today’s heroin crisis. Men and women, black and white, rich and poor, in cities and in suburbs – they’re all using and overdosing on heroin.

New Jersey is a perfect microcosm of this current epidemic. With demographics ranging from poor, inner-city individuals to affluent families in the suburbs, they just happen to have become ground zero for heroin abuse.

So, what’s the solution? How do we combat heroin addiction when it’s become so prevalent? How do we shut the door once it’s been opened? Well, various New Jersey politicians have already begun to implement some proactive measures.

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What’s Being Done?

The newest laws, covered in detail here, were introduced by State Senator Joseph Vitale in 2014.

These include additional funding for state-sponsored addiction prevention, prescription drug monitoring programs, a dedicated opioid taskforce, and many more. A good start, to be sure, but what else is New Jersey doing?

new jersey heroin treatment

Well, Gov. Christie has launched a few programs of his own. As of July 1st, he implemented a statewide treatment hotline. Anyone can call in, at any time of the day or night, and be connected to help.

Christie has also pushed for first-responders to have easier access to naloxone and for a post jail integration program. It remains to be seen how effective these will be and whether, in the case of his “jail re-entry program,” they’ll be executed at all.

Still, these are all major steps that New Jersey’s taking to curb its heroin problem. While their impact on day-to-day overdose deaths is still uncertain, one thing is for sure – Jersey is fighting back. I’d wager that, as one of the states hit hardest by heroin addiction, they’ll also be one of the first with a real solution.

Where is Narcan Available Without a Prescription?

An OTC Lifesaver

If you’ve spent any time in or around the world of drug addiction then the name Narcan should ring some bells. It’s a lifesaving “overdose antidote,” which can completely clear the body of opioid molecules in minutes. It’s also been at the center of some serious legislative controversy lately.

where is narcan available without a prescription

Even mentioning Narcan, a brand name of the opioid antagonist naloxone, inspires fevered discussion. Proponents of this drug argue that it offers invaluable medical benefits to those struggling with heroin or pain pill addiction. Opponents argue that it allows addicts to avoid consequences of their addiction, that it allows them to continue using with impunity.

Adding fuel to the fire, bills for greater access to Narcan have been in and out of state and federal legislators for the past several years. States like New Jersey, hit particularly hard by the painkiller turned heroin epidemic, have increased access to naloxone dramatically. Well, in late 2014 another state followed suit.

In August 2014, CVS Pharmacy announced that it would soon make Narcan available without a prescription in all sixty of its Rhode Island locations.

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A Battlefield of Overdose & Death

Rhode Island is typically thought of as a quaint, New England state. In fact, it’s often thought to embody everything that makes the Northeast a wonderful place to live – quiet towns, friendly neighbors, a relatively low cost of living, and scenic landscapes.

While all of this is true, it’s also in the midst of a deadly struggle with prescription painkillers and heroin. Rhode Island, like the rest of the United States, is besieged by the abuse of opioids and things have only gotten worse in the past six years.

137 people died in 2009 as a result of drug overdose. In 2010, that number jumped to 152. In 2011, it was 172. In 2012, it was 182. By 2013, the number of accidental overdose deaths had risen to a shocking 231. It was clear something needed to be done and fast. (All figures taken from Rhode Island’s offical website)

Enter Narcan. Although the chemical naloxone has been around for quite some time, it’s only recently gained popularity. States across the country have been implementing laws that make Narcan easier to obtain. Their reasoning is simple – it’s better for someone to overdose and receive naloxone than it is for someone to overdose and die.

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Well, Does it Work?

Although this line of thinking isn’t without its critics, it has, generally speaking, worked. While Rhode Island overdose death rates are still astronomically high (approximately 238 in 2014), lives are being saved left and right.

In 2014 alone, EMS responders administered between 118 and 159 doses of Narcan per month. That’s over 1,200 lives saved! It’s safe to say fatality rates would be much higher with this literal lifesaving chemical.

What about Narcan and other naloxone formulas being available without a prescription? Is this a good thing or not? Well, again, the answer is more complicated than simply being labeled good or bad.

Increasing access to Narcan for at risk populations (current or former IV opioid addicts) has led to fewer overdoses. The numbers in Rhode Island, and many other states like Washington, California, Connecticut, and New Jersey, back this up. However, some believe it’s led to complacency among addicts. That is to say that relatively open access to the drug may discourage addicts from attempting to get sober.

While this makes surface level sense, let’s dig a bit deeper. Does the availability of insulin make current or potential diabetics less likely to take care of themselves? Does the availability of cancer fighting drugs make those receiving them less likely to take other positive health measures?

Although those are rather extreme examples, the logic is the same. Access to a drug does not mean that drug is the only line of defense against a disease. In fact, many harm reduction projects (think syringes exchanges or free health clinics) encourage those receiving Narcan to seek professional help.

Again, there are pro’s and con’s to Narcan being available without a prescription. However, it seems to be having a positive impact on the world of addiction medicine. After all, a saved life is a saved life.

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Is There an End in Sight For the Opioid Overdose Epidemic?

A New Solution to Opioid Overdoses

Last week, amidst a waning Ebola panic, the World Health Organization announced some much needed good news. They published a study titled, “Community Management of Opioid Overdose,” in which they recommend broader access to the drug Naloxone.

opioid overdose symptoms

The overview of the W.H.O. study reads, “Opioid overdose is easily reversed with the opioid antidote naloxone and with basic life support.”

That is good news! We live in a country were upwards of 60,000 people are killed each year from overdoses. Something needs to be done and quick.

The World Health Organization isn’t alone in thinking Naloxone could be the “cure” for this overdose epidemic. The Center for Disease Control published a paper in 2012 calling for wider availability of the drug.

So, just what is Naloxone and how is it able to offer hope to those in active addiction? Let’s find out.

Before we go any further, we first need to address what opioid overdose symptoms look like. After all, opioid overdose treatment isn’t any good if you don’t know someone’s overdosing in the first place.

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Opioid Overdose Symptoms

Find common opioid overdose symptoms below:

  • Vomiting
  • Clammy skin
  • Extended periods of unconsciousness (nodding out)
  • Unable to be woken up
  • If awake – unable to talk and unresponsive to stimulus
  • Shallow/erratic breathing
  • Erratic pulse
  • Body goes limp
  • Skin tone turns blue or gray

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Opioid Overdose Treatment

Now that we know some basic opioid overdose symptoms, let’s turn our attention to treatment.

Besides Naloxone, what is opioid overdose treatment? Well, it’s any measure taken to reverse an overdose. This can be as simple as attempting to wake someone who’s nodding off. It can be as intricate as emergency room treatment.

Speaking as someone who’s received all forms of opioid overdose treatment, I much prefer the medical ones. It’s a fact of life that active opioid addicts overdose. However, things like throwing ice water on someone, slapping their face, or letting them “sleep it off” aren’t very helpful. In fact, they can actually do more harm than good.

So, what is medical overdose treatment? More to the point, what is Naloxone overdose treatment?

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Naloxone Overdose Treatment

Naloxone is a popular anti-overdose drug. In simple terms, it clears the brain of opioid molecules. This almost immediately “reverses” an overdose.

opioid overdose treatment

It’s clear that Naloxone overdose treatment is a valuable resource in the fight against overdose deaths. Like the World Health Organization says, the combination of basic life support (i.e. CPR) and Naloxone can almost eradicate these deaths all together.

So why isn’t Naloxone easier to obtain? The answer lies somewhere in the stigma of addiction. For decades, addictions of all kinds, and especially opioid addiction, have been treated as moral issues. Opioid addicts are “weak-willed” or “failures.” They’re treated as criminals rather than sick individuals.

As the attitude surrounding addiction shifts from criminal to medical, so do the treatment options. In fact, Time reported that between 1996 and 2010, over 10,000 overdose deaths were prevented due to Naloxone overdose treatment.

As Naloxone is made available to more and more people, this number will do nothing but grow.

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Harm Reduction: Helping or Hurting Addicts? – Part Two

Written By: Fiona Stockard

This is part two of our series on harm reduction. Click here to read part one

What is Harm Reduction?

Naloxone Distribution

Naloxone is an “anti-overdose” drug. It’s a remarkably effective way to treat opioid overdoses. Naloxone can completely bring someone out of an overdose within two to eight minutes. In fact, Naloxone is thought to be so beneficial that it’s listed as one of the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines.

naloxone distribution

Trial programs have distributed Naloxone to active addicts, their loved ones, police, and social service agencies. This distribution sometimes takes place at needle exchanges and opioid replacement therapy clinics.

Advocates of Naloxone say it gives addicts, quite literally, a second chance at life. If an addict overdoses on the street, their peers are more likely to give them Naloxone than take them to a hospital. If a police officer witnesses an overdose, either on the street or in jail, it’s quick and easy to give the overdosing individual Naloxone.

Opponents of Naloxone say that, once again, it’s too soft on addicts. They say addicts should be held responsible for their actions, should feel their consequences. They say if an addict overdoses, they should deal with the repercussions.

I think any sane person can agree that Naloxone distribution is a good idea! It gives addicts, and those who deal with addicts frequently, one more tool against an unfortunate and tragic death.

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Safe Injection Sites

Safe injection sites are without a doubt the most controversial form of harm reduction. At their most basic, safe injection sites offer a legally sanctioned clinic for IV users to inject drugs.

safe injection sites
Safe injection sites offer various services already mentioned. They provide access to clean syringes. Their staff is equipped with Naloxone. They offer basic health care assistance and educational classes. They have programs for addicts who’d like to receive treatment. They even have clothes and food for homeless addicts.

Advocates of safe injection sites argue that they offer an invaluable service to addicts. They offer a safe, government sanctioned location to use IV drugs. They’re equipped to combat overdose, infection, abscesses, and other common medical problems. They offer education, medical services, and rehabilitation services.

Opponents of safe injection sites argue this is simply too much. They say it’s not enough to have other options, but now addicts want a place to use illegal drugs with impunity. They say safe injection sites encourage and promote drug use. Basically, they make the same argument they’ve been making all along – that addiction should be treated as a crime, rather than a disease.

It’s worth noting there are no safe injection sites in the US. So far, they’re in various European countries, Australia, and Canada.

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Basic Healthcare Services

Basic healthcare services are exactly what they sound like. They consist of things like: physical exams, HIV and other infectious disease testing, distribution of Naloxone, distribution of contraceptives, distribution of sterile injection supplies, and more.

basic healthcare services

Basic healthcare services are important because many addicts don’t have access to doctors or other forms of primary healthcare. Advocates of harm reduction argue that basic healthcare services are a human right. Everyone, regardless of their addiction(s), should have access to healthcare.

There aren’t many opponents of basic healthcare services. Even among those who contest harm reduction strategies, few think that addicts shouldn’t have access to healthcare.

Learn about a treatment method offering hope for opioid overdoses!

So, Does Harm Reduction Help or Hurt Addicts?

Ultimately, this question can only be answered by the one asking it.

There are a lot of benefits to harm reduction. A lot of benefits. Harm reduction provides addicts with safe injection supplies. It offers many ways to escape the cycle of active addiction. It give addicts access to basic drug education and healthcare services. In the case of Naloxone and safe injection sites, harm reduction even saves lives.

There are also some drawbacks. It can propagate addiction. Addicts may find it easier to rely on harm reduction than to get sober. Note that I said may. This hasn’t been proven. Certainly, addicts need to feel the consequences of their use. That’s the only way we heal.

When weighing the pros and the cons, it’s clear that harm reduction does more good than bad. However, addiction is a complicated disease. What’s good for one addict may be harmful to another.

You have the facts, now you can decide for yourself. Is harm reduction good or bad? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. Having an educated and balanced discussion about harm reduction is the only way we can decide, as a group of sober individuals, if it helps or hurts.

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