Although opiate overdoses are skyrocketing in the U.S., many people still don’t know about naloxone, which literally reverses the dangerous effects of taking too much OxyContin or heroin by counteracting the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. (This always amazes me, but I myself didn’t know about naloxone until well after my brother’s heroin overdose death in 2009. It took less than 10 minutes for me to get trained in Narcan use by the wonderful folks at the D.O.P.E. Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce fatal overdose deaths by providing overdose prevention education and naloxone to drug users and their loved ones — and if you live in the Bay Area, I highly suggest contacting them to get trained.)
In Canada — which is second only to the U.S. in per-capita consumption of prescription opiates — naloxone costs less than $12, but isn’t widely distributed or acknowledged, according to the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council. In a powerful new short film, the WRCPC explains how naloxone can help save lives and highlights the need for expanding overdose prevention.
Distributing the life-saving opioid overdose reverser naloxone can save one life for every 227 naloxone kits distributed, a study found earlier this year.
Naloxone distribution to heroin users is likely to reduce overdose deaths and is cost-effective “even under markedly conservative assumptions,” said the authors of the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, published in January. For every 20% of heroin addicts in a population treated with the drug, about 6.5% of overdose deaths could be prevented, resulting in 2,000 lives saved in a population of 200,000 heroin users, the study determined.
Anywhere from 1 to 2 million Americans currently misuse heroin or prescription opioid drugs and could be in danger of an overdose. As of 2010, about 188 naloxone distribution programs exist in the U.S., and these groups have trained over 53,000 people and reported more than 10,000 overdose reversals, according to this article.
White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske recently called for increased action to prevent drug overdose deaths, specifically through wider distribution of naloxone.
Last year, the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that seeks to advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, said in a policy brief that naloxone’s status as a prescription drug is one of the key barriers to broader access. And due to its status as a generic medication, producing it does not yield substantial profits, so many pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to manufacture it, the organization noted.
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that naloxone has successfully saved the lives of more than 10,000 overdose victims since 1996. However, only 15 states and the District of Columbia currently have naloxone distribution programs. This, despite the fact that nearly 40 Americans die per day from overdoses of prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, according to a recent CDC report.
Learn more about what to do in the event of an opiate overdose here (courtesy of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), or watch the video below to learn more about Narcan administration. Or contact The DOPE Project.