It is so important to know how to identify, prevent, and reverse an opioid overdose because this is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. In order to stop this epidemic we need to have access to the antidote, naloxone.
Let’s set aside beliefs and judgments about drugs and drug users for a moment. Drug users for the sake of this article relates to anyone who uses drugs, whether or not they are prescribed by a physician. The drugs that are relevant to this discussion fall into the category of opioids.
Opioids are natural, semi-synthetic or synthetic versions of opium and in many cases lead to drug dependence. You may know opioids by names such as opium, morphine, codeine, heroin, hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, methadone, Demerol, etc. to name some. They are usually prescribed for pain.
When opioids are prescribed by a physician there is the possibility that the patient may experience adverse effects – such as a stop in breathing. Even when taking pain medication as prescribed, factors may come into play that can increase the chance that someone may stop breathing as a result of taking their pain medication as prescribed.
Factors such as having a glass of wine with their medication, being sick, starting a new medication, having asthma or sleep apnea – any of these factors could place that person at risk, and yet many at-risk individuals are not offered a solution such as naloxone and do not know they can request it.
Naloxone has been around since the 1960’s, has been used in hospital emergency rooms for decades, it is classified as a prescription medication, and it is not a controlled substance. It is legal to prescribe naloxone in every state, although each state controls naloxone access laws. Florida does not currently have naloxone access laws (although there are efforts underway to establish them). Naloxone reverses an opioid overdose when administered in time. There is about a two-hour window when an emergency reversal can be successfully completed. Naloxone restores a person’s breathing, usually within one to two minutes. Because naloxone reverses the effects of the opioids, when the person is revived they experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. There are no other adverse effects and there is no abuse potential.
Many people believe that having access to naloxone will keep drug users using (opioid) drugs, and would cause users to use more and more frequently because they have access to naloxone to reverse an overdose if they take too much. This is not the case.
Researcher and expert in the field of opioid-related overdose prevention and intervention, Peter Davidson, Ph.D., of the Division of Global Public Health, Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego provided the following statement regarding this widely held belief:
“We now have over 10 years’ worth of research showing that not only does having naloxone not increase people’s drug use, but that there’s evidence that the experience of saving someone’s life using naloxone is associated with ceasing heroin use altogether within the next 12 months.”
In most cases parents and friends are the first to discover the person in a nonresponsive state and call for emergency services. These “first responders” could be trained on how to identify, respond, and reverse an overdose, and could be equipped with and know how to administer naloxone.
Whether you or a friend or loved one is currently taking pain medication, or if you have a child that may be at-risk for overdose you need access to naloxone. In addition to the at-risk factors described for people prescribed pain medication, other individuals that are at-risk for overdose include individuals waiting to go into drug treatment, individuals just released from drug treatment, or individuals that have just been released from incarceration.
Harm reduction advocate and activist, Julia Negron, Lead Organizer of Suncoast Harm Reduction Project, Board Member of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing), Board Member of Floridians for Recovery, and a member of the Steering Committee of A New PATH’s Moms United To End The War On Drugs campaign made this comment about the need for naloxone access laws in Florida:
“Every life is worth saving and we need to approach this issue with compassion and dignity. South Florida especially needs advocates willing to get involved. We are not promoting drug use and naloxone is not a free ride to keep using. Everyone deserves second chances and to have access to this lifesaving antidote.”
Julia is actively involved along with a number of advocacy groups and coalitions that are working together to give Floridians access to naloxone. Florida mothers have mobilized and are joining forces with statewide agencies and local coalitions to increase overdose awareness and naloxone access. They continue to educate the community, legislators and other stakeholders in the hopes of a 2015 Overdose Prevention / Naloxone access bill.
To date 27 states in the U.S. have naloxone access laws, with 12 states added in the last two years. Police, EMT’s and other emergency first responders, parents and people with drug dependency have been trained to carry and administer naloxone. Florida currently allows paramedics only to carry naloxone. Florida police, EMT’s and parents should also be trained and equipped with naloxone because they may be the first ones to arrive on the scene in an emergency situation. Every life is worth saving.
I urge you to take action to make Florida one of the next states to have naloxone access laws.
For More Information
Suncoast Harm Reduction Project www.facebook.com/SuncoastHarmReduction
The Skeeterhawk Experiment www.theskeeterhawkexperiment.org/about-2/
A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) www.anewpathsite.org/
Moms United to End the War on Drugs www.momsunited.net
Pamela Clark is an internationally and California state licensed drug and alcohol counselor and is a certified Opioid Overdose Prevention and Response Trainer. She works for the nonprofit Transforming Youth Recovery, where she writes articles and develops programs and training workshops that have the power to eliminate stigma and educate the public about prevention, recovery, and educational recovery supports. She lives in San Diego, CA.