Can you imagine lying in an emergency room barely conscious, not even aware whether you will live or die after a heroin overdose? For some time now we’ve been hearing frightening statistics about opiate overdose victims. People who start out with a simple pain pill addiction turn to heroin because they can no longer access or afford expensive pills. Does that sound like you?
Opiate addiction has grown to epidemic proportions in this country. From 1996 through 2010, CNN reported that over 28,000 people died from opiate overdoses. This past year, NBC News reports that right here in the United States, somebody dies every 36 minutes. That translates to 40 deaths per day, or 14,600 per year. Too many people are dying.
A Safety Net for Heroin Overdose
Most people, especially those who use heroin or the people who love them, know about the wonder drug, naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan. Over the past several years, pharmaceutical companies have played with formulations that could be quickly injected or dispensed as a nasal spray into someone who has overdosed, but the drug has only been available to policemen and paramedics. Gradually use opened up to lay individuals, but only in certain locations, because the drug works. Pure and simple, it saves lives.
Finally in 2014 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a portable naloxone device for universal use, but many law enforcement officials at local levels are still reluctant to see people get their hands on it. It’s just a stopgap measure, they say. “It’s an escape. It’s an excuse to stay addicted,” said Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, as reported in the CNN story.
But why should they keep it away from people if it has been FDA approved? If naloxone can save your life, don’t you want to have access to it? It’s like an epi-pen for someone allergic to bees who has been stung, or a defibrillator for someone who collapses from a heart attack. When it’s injected into a collapsed addict, the person revives immediately, reversing a life-threatening pain pill or heroin overdose. But many people share Governor LePage’s fear that having access to a miracle device will prevent those who struggle with addiction from getting the kind of treatment that will keep them off dangerous drugs once and for good.
The portable device by its brand name is called Evzio, and it is about as big as a pack of cards. A robotic voice actually talks you through the injection process. Afterward, it remains vital to seek medical care, because the residual opiates in your system could still send you swirling downward into a state of unconsciousness and respiratory arrest.
Because many lawmakers continue to oppose Evzio’s use and availability, and also because insurance companies don’t want to pay for it, many people—mostly the fearful family members of addicts who worry constantly about finding their loved one dead—are buying it on the streets.
To date, there are no allergic reactions associated with naloxone, and there have been no studies that prove its accessibility will encourage continued addiction. However, its use brings on withdrawal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, sweating, and agitation.
If you are addicted to heroin or you worry about a loved one dying from a heroin overdose, then you should view naloxone as another chance. It’s another chance to get into treatment and stop living the life. It’s another chance to revive yourself, to return to the living and find out what possibilities lie ahead. Use naloxone if you need it, and then—get yourself some help.