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The Naloxone Battle: Help for Heroin Abuse in Georgia

First responders fighting heroin abuse in Georgia
First responders fighting heroin abuse in Georgia

It’s difficult to think that people suffering from heroin abuse in Georgia would be part of a political battle, isn’t it? Yet at a time when the epidemic of opiate addiction has skyrocketed beyond belief, when the numbers of people addicted to heroin have doubled between 2011 and 2013, state governments are challenging pharmaceutical companies for inflating the price of naloxone.

Battle Lines Are Formed

On a website that describes what’s going on among Washington lawmakers called The Hill, Sarah Ferry has written about President Obama’s 2016 budget that directs 100 million dollars toward the battle against opiate addiction. The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) has identified this as a three-pronged focus to fight heroin addiction that teaches healthcare providers better practices in prescribing opioids, expands the use of medication-assisted treatment programs, and increases the availability and use of naloxone.

Most of the sudden and significant jolts in the price of naloxone have been traced back to a company called Amphastar Pharmaceuticals. With many wondering if this is tantamount to price gouging, just as naloxone has been successfully integrated into use at the grass roots level, why does Amphastar’s pricing suddenly rise beyond double the previous price?

In Massachusetts, naloxone cost $18.50 back in February 2014. Now it costs city and county governments over $37 per dose. In Baltimore, Maryland, officials report pricing that increased from $9.70 to $37 per dose. Treatment of heroin abuse in Georgia was affected when prices rose from $20 to $35 per dose.

New York lawmakers fought back against this unwarranted price increase and wrangled a deal from Amphastar that gives them a six-buck rebate on every dose they’ve purchased, and also an agreement not to raise prices so drastically again in the future. The Ohio attorney general insisted on the same deal. Other jurisdictions are using money from drug arrests to offset the costs of naloxone.

An Amphastar spokesman whined—er, pointed out—that this life-saving medication costs them more because of the pre-filled syringe used in the formulation for the kits distributed. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many to believe that the costs of simple syringes would account for such radical new pricing.

Moore Medical of Connecticut, McKesson Corporation of California, Southeastern Emergency Equipment of North Carolina, and Bound Tree Medical of Ohio have also received queries about their naloxone prices. However, those companies maintain that the price of naloxone is set by its manufacturer, and they point back to Amphastar. And oh yes—Amphastar netted some 103 million dollars in profits in 2014 from its product line called “other” containing naloxone.

The History of Naloxone

Just how does naloxone work? It’s not a new drug. It was introduced to the medical public in the Annals of Internal Medicine by W.R. Martin way back in December 1976. Researchers worried about reviving surgical patients who received too much pain medication and discovered that naloxone could run interference with the brain’s ability to interact with the pain medication. At the same time, the naloxone worked not as an opiate agonist, like heroin or pain medication, but as an antagonist. So, it could occupy the brain’s receptors and block access by harmful medications, but it did not, itself, provide any of the euphoria sought out by people who can’t stop their heroin abuse in Georgia.

The Journal of Emergency Medical Services printed an article written by Karen Barker back in 2008 about this drug judged to be an amazing lifesaver. The article explains, for those who want to kick heroin abuse in Georgia, how it interferes with the brain’s ability to produce dopamine, the endorphin that makes any addiction so compelling.

Naloxone proponents have engaged officials state by state who opposed making naloxone available to first responders such as police, fire fighters, or paramedics. Many people felt that the easy availability of naloxone encouraged continued use of heroin because it would be too easy to reverse an overdose. Nah, let people die, said many, That’ll teach ′em to use heroin. Fortunately, saner minds prevailed, and the drug’s efficacy has also resulted in kits formulated for distribution to and use by the public.

It’s important to point out, if you worry about someone who admits to heroin abuse in Georgia, that anyone who receives naloxone for overdose should still be seen by a doctor afterward. The effects of opiates taken can remain in the system for hours, while those of naloxone wear off after about 45 minutes. If you revive a person, they can very well be overwhelmed by their heroin or pain pills once those 45 minutes pass. They can still die without medical care.

Help for Heroin Abuse in Georgia

People have been eager to get their hands on naloxone, not just the ones who are plagued by heroin abuse in Georgia but also their families. State by state, the fight has gone on, with stories of parents seeking naloxone kits from underground sources or arguing with law enforcement officials who didn’t believe it should be available to addicts.

The Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) was formed in 1994 out of a concern that those who abused heroin in Georgia showed increasing rates of infection from HIV/AIDS. With organizations like the AHRC advocating for use of naloxone, Georgia legislators signed House Bills 965 and 966 into effect in 2014, which permitted the distribution of naloxone and also waived prosecution of those who sought medical treatment for overdose. The AHRC took the treatment ball and ran with it, creating an opioid treatment program involving the use and distribution of naloxone.

That’s where this political battle involving addicts diagnosed with heroin abuse in Georgia comes in, because there are no convincing reasons to raise the cost of naloxone. If you are battling heroin abuse in Georgia, or if you love somebody who is dealing with this terrible medical disease, you may be all too familiar with the need for naloxone. It’s the one drug that can reverse a person’s heroin overdose. It can pick somebody up by the scruff of the neck and drag them from Death’s doorstep, kicking and screaming, back to life.

Medication-assisted treatment in local programs provides possibly the best option for helping a person stay clean once they decide they want to live. Methadone and buprenorphine are both approved by the government for their use in treating heroin abuse in Georgia. They stop the cravings and withdrawal symptoms so that the addict can regain control of his or her life. If you want to find out more about naloxone or help someone get into treatment, call your local methadone treatment program and ask for information.

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