This is the second part in a story about naloxone, the drug that can bring you back from the brink of death if you overdose because of your heroin or opioid dependence. NBC reported recently on the heroin epidemic and the FDA’s recent approval of naloxone, also known as Narcan.
Reporter Kate Snow interviewed a Vermont married couple, both doctors working at a medication-assisted treatment clinic. Unlike a year or two ago when someone struggling with opioid dependence could walk into a methadone clinic and get treatment the very same day, these two doctors were fretting about a growing waiting list at their clinic. But with the list of Vermont heroin overdose deaths having doubled in 2013 alone, today’s addicts often have to wait weeks or even months to get treatment. And then the doctors discovered the unthinkable: Their teenage son was also addicted.
In My Neighborhood and Yours
The son of Doctors Dean and Cheryl McKenzie began by taking some pain pills, bought from a young female dealer on a street lined with homes and populated by children riding skateboards and bicycles. Before long, his dealer could no longer get the pain pills. His life changed—from bookworm and model student to opioid dependence. The dealer was the one who actually suggested that he give up on pain pills and move on to heroin.
Over a thousand miles away, in St. Louis, Missouri, Kate Snow meets another mother whose sons are addicts. One of them goes to the local methadone clinic for help, because he is young enough to have a Medicaid card, but the other one has no insurance and he keeps injecting heroin. Five of his friends have died. She has no compunction against seeing an underground resource to get all the injectable naloxone she can, to keep it on hand because she knows it will revive her son if the worst happens.
The reporter accompanies this mother to a naloxone pickup, and the older son shows up, obviously high. Initially he denies using heroin and says he has just been drinking. Then he admits to a Xanax. Then he admits to the heroin. It’s a recipe for disaster. The mother weeps, “It’s my goal every day to keep him alive.”
An Alternative to Opioid Dependence
While the FDA has approved the use of naloxone administered from a device called Evzio, which injects naloxone into your body directly through your clothing, many local officials oppose its use. They believe that addicts will see it as an easy guarantee against death from opioid dependence and will use it to avoid getting treatment. Why get help if you can just get Evzio?
But treatment in addition to methadone, Suboxone, or naloxone is the definite next step for anybody who wants to recover from heroin or pain killer addiction. In one-on-one and group counseling sessions, and in the 12-step recovery rooms, you learn to understand how your use began. You find out how to deal with your triggers, the specific things that you associate with using. You gain the ability to deal with the difficult people and situations in your life.
Back in Vermont, Dr. Cheryl McKenzie has helped her son find the road to recovery and she spends much of her time advocating for treatment. She works at the community level to open up communication about opioid dependence and get help for more people. “Just come forward,” she urges. “Don’t be embarrassed.” Heroin addiction, as she says, can happen to anyone. It is an equal opportunity leveler—it can destroy anybody, at any age, any income bracket, who has access to unlimited opportunities, in the wink of an eye. If it’s happened to you, pick up the phone, make a phone call, and make a move forward with your life.