USA Today Article Raises Questions About Effectiveness of Narcan Overdose Reversals as a Lone Approach to Dealing with the Opioid Epidemic
I have screamed from the mountaintops that while Narcan has saved thousands of lives, in many cases we aren’t preventing overdose deaths, but rather delaying them. This recent article from USA Today shares findings through a new dashboard being used to track overdose deaths, as well as non-fatal overdoses, that people who have been saved from a fatal overdose by Narcan, are up to three times more likely to die from an overdose at a later time.
According to this article, in the past year, the United States has experienced over 81,000 overdose deaths. In 2020, Naloxone, better known as Narcan, was used over 155,000 times to reverse an overdose. While it is encouraging to know that we have potentially saved over 150,000 lives, it is important to note that Narcan puts individuals in immediate withdrawal. Frequently, rather than being grateful for life-saving action, patients who received Narcan are angry because of the instant withdrawal, and are quickly in search of more illicit drugs to fend off the symptoms they are suffering. We simply cannot pat ourselves on the back and say job well done because we saved a life, when in fact, so many continue to struggle, use and end up in the same position again and again until finally they are too far gone to save. We have got to do more.
Increased access to Narcan is an important baby step towards solving our drug epidemic, but it is not the cure. While we are trying to prevent overdose deaths, our mortality rates continue at staggering rates.
We have got to link those who experience an overdose with both life-saving support and treatment for addiction. The support of addiction treatment, either in-person brick and mortar, medically supervised, and/or managed detoxification and rehabilitation program, or some other form of help for addiction such as an online program, is an essential element to really help those in need to find their way out of the grips of addiction.
If we can mandate someone who has obtained a DWI to attend treatment for substance abuse, why can’t we mandate those whose lives have been saved with Narcn to some form of help for addiction?
The good news is that this new dashboard provides greater insight into how many people are actually being saved from overdose with Narcan, and is providing important information to help determine the best approach to combat addiction.
However, there are still significant challenges with many of the recommended harm-reduction approaches. Some experts theorize that legalization of illicit drugs is the answer to the addiction crisis. They believe that if marijuana or even harder drugs like heroin are made legal, then we can have better control over their use, and stem the tide on overdoses.
What we fail to realize in this equation is the experience the consumer is often looking for. Thrill seekers don’t go to the amusement park to ride the kiddie roller coaster. Those in addiction treatment often disclose their progression of use from alcohol to marijuana to pills found in parents’ medicine cabinets to street drugs. For years we talked about marijuana being a gateway drug to harder drugs. Now, in its legalization we are supposed to pretend that users will be satisfied with legal pot. This is not the case in states that have mature marijuana laws like Colorado, Washington and Oregon. In these states where recreational marijuana use is legal, overdose deaths have increased rather than decreased. In addition, the use of other more potent drugs like heroin has increased.
With this increased use comes the additional concern of drugs being laced with more powerful and deadly drugs like Fentanyl or its newest street competitor xylazine, an equally powerful benzodiazepine. These are being pressed into pills that consumers are purchasing from the internet, or in street drugs, without their knowledge. While the overdose potential is extremely high at first use, what becomes more alarming for those who survive is how they become addicted to the new substances and then seek them out. The powerful nature of Fentanyl may force someone to be “Narcaned” several times to prevent death. In the case of xylazine, Narcan does not work at all as its properties are not the same as consumed opiates.
Even if you have no compassion for those struggling with addiction, think about the resources it takes for emergency services to respond to overdoses. Linking people to addiction treatment and support is not only more cost effective, it might save someone’s life who has never touched a drink or drug. If EMS is called to an overdose, who might not be receiving services as a result? We want people to get help and get better. We want to not only save lives but restore meaningful and purposeful lives to people who might otherwise be committing crimes in the throes of addiction. When one person’s life is fully-restored, it not only benefits the individual, not only the family that loves and cares for the addicted, but the entire community benefits from a sober life.
The journey in addiction is an inward one. What often starts out as a social activity, becomes a dark nightmare that includes warning signs of lying, stealing, manipulating and isolation. The user gives up recreational activities, social and family connection in deference to alcohol and drug use. The pathway out is not simply through overdose prevention or even medication. It comes through developing healthy bonding to a different and more meaningful lifestyle. This is one of the reasons why programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have been so successful in the past. The concept of one individual helping another begins to create a bond that decreases the desirability of not only the alcohol or drug, but it helps the individual break free of an unhealthy, dangerous and disconnected lifestyle.
Sober at Home, Inc. is a private, discreet program with clinicians skilled in substance abuse counseling services. If you or a loved one are seeking help for substance abuse, we can help you. Don’t wait until it’s too late! You can sign up for a question and answer session with Founder David Gerber who has over 30 years of experience helping those struggling with addiction. You can also follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.