Until recently, I had never heard of the drug naloxone. Lately, though, there has been a lot of conversation about this drug. I was reading the news a few weeks ago and came across an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about naloxone. It is a drug that is sometimes, though many people would argue not often enough, used to counteract an opiate overdose. It is often distributed as part of emergency response kits to try and help counteract a fatal opiate overdose.
Many people believe this drug needs to be much more widely available so friends and family, instead of just doctors and emergency responders, can administer it to someone. More cities seem to be adopting this attitude, and it looks like it may be as widespread as being an over-the-counter medicine sometime in the future. As recently as April, FDA officials were considering this as a realistic option.
Part of the controversy is that Naloxone is considered to be harm reduction rather than any kind of real opiate treatment program. The harm reduction approach is pretty much what it sounds like – reduce harm related to addiction (or whatever the public health problem may be) as much as possible. Harm reduction clinics for people with an addiction to opiates and other drugs offer services such as syringe exchange, where people can give away their used syringes in exchange for new ones, suboxone and/or methadone clinics, counseling, legal services, and access to medical care. Not all harm reduction clinics offer all of these services, and some other may offer additional services. Prevention Point Philadelphia is one of the 2 clinics in Pennsylvania that offers education about naloxone and teaches non-medical people how to use it.
I personally think harm reduction clinics and this kind of education and training is incredibly valuable and important. The problem many people have with it is the thought that it may be condoning drug use – telling people it’s okay to use drugs without providing any kind of real treatment for their problems.
I don’t necessarily think it’s ideal to provide people with a drug like naloxone and clean syringes without offering treatment, but most of the harm reduction clinics do offer counseling and education of some sort. It would be great if everyone who went into one of these clinics would take part in treatment and stop using drugs, but that just isn’t realistic.
What’s realistic is that people continue to use drugs, and they continue to overdose and die. Why are we still arguing about whether or not naloxone should be more widely distributed? Does it really matter what message it sends if it has the potential to save the lives of many people? If someone isn’t going to get treatment, they aren’t going to get it. If naloxone isn’t offered and isn’t available, these people are not going to decide to stop using drugs just because this antidote to opiate overdoses isn’t available. What will happen is more people will die unnecessarily.
Naloxone isn’t the answer to addiction – maybe it’s just a band-aid for a lot of people. That really isn’t the point though. The point is it can, has, and does save lives.
Naloxone is a non-narcotic and a non-addictive drug. It isn’t possible to overdose on it, and it can sometimes cause people to experience opiate withdrawal symptoms, making it pretty unlikely to be abused. It saves people’s lives. I understand the issues people have with harm reduction clinics, and I get that it may seem counterintuitive to offer people what may seem to be a safer way to abuse drugs. What I don’t understand is why we can’t get past that and start helping more people. The people who overdose and die can’t get treatment. Maybe at some point they will want help and will find it, but this isn’t a possibility if they aren’t alive.
Naloxone isn’t the answer to drug addiction and fatal overdoses, it is just one way to try to save people’s lives. Our country would rather throw drug addicts in jail where they either receive no addiction treatment whatsoever, or treatment so inadequate that it may as well not even be considered treatment. If we can’t see them, they aren’t our problem. Somehow this is okay, but a drug that can actually help save people’s lives isn’t.