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Naloxone: Should It Be Available or Not?

Naloxone, also known as Narcan or Evzio, is an antidote to an opioid overdose. When someone overdoses on drugs like heroin or hydrocodone, breathing slows down and can stop altogether. Naloxone is known as an opioid antagonist. Opioid antagonists bind to receptors in the brain, reversing and blocking the effects of the drugs. The drug works quickly to help someone who is overdosing breathe normally again. Narcan is available in a nasal spray and as an injection. Medical professionals and researchers currently debate about whether naloxone should be available to the public without a prescription. Though the drug saves lives, some fear that public availability will further drug use. Let’s review the pros and cons of the argument for a clearer picture.

The Prevalence of Opioid Abuse

Opioid use has risen in recent years due to the prescription painkiller epidemic. Prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone are highly dangerous. Overdose deaths related to any opioid, including prescription medications, rose from 18,515 in 2007 to 47,600 in 2017. Opiate abuse often leads to heroin addiction, as heroin is a cheaper alternative. Since users often take heroin via IV, this dramatically increases someone’s chances of overdosing. Heroin can also be laced with fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin. Overdose deaths involving heroin skyrocketed from 2,399 in 2007 to 15,482 in 2017. In response to the epidemic, the Food and Drug Administration had been working to make naloxone more available to the public. Other public health officials and entities, including the Surgeon General, have advocated for naloxone as well. They also support widespread distribution and education on how to administer Narcan. Yet, many believe that making naloxone available without a prescription could worsen the problem. It may even create a whole new one. This divide has sparked a heated debate and kept the issue at a standstill.

The Pros of Naloxone Availability

Each second is precious during an overdose. Once respiratory arrest sets in, the risk of death increases. Naloxone availability would give people the ability to prevent a loved one’s death while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The following positives have been documented and researched:

  • There is a low risk of serious side effects
  • Reduced fatal overdose rates
  • Lower healthcare costs due to emergency room visits and hospitalizations
  • Reduced emotional trauma from losing a loved one to overdose

It’s also worth noting that one can currently buy naloxone in pharmacies in some states without a prescription. In most states, family members and loved ones are allowed prescriptions for the medication.

The Cons of Naloxone Availability

There could be drawbacks to making naloxone available to the public. There are also several arguments against making naloxone available without a prescription.

  • Some researchers and physicians believe that access to naloxone will enable drug users. They feel opioid addicts will further abuse the drug knowing that there is a remedy close at hand.
  • Researchers at the University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin found in a study that naloxone may increase opioid theft. This would occur because of the increased numbers of opioid abusers who can’t financially maintain their addiction.
  • The same researchers found there would likely be a drop in the number of people seeking out addiction treatment.
  • Naloxone is not a one-size-fits-all solution to opioid abuse. A 2012 study reinforced that the medication’s effects only last for half an hour. After that, emergency medical treatment is still necessary.

There are strong counter-arguments to these points as well. Many of the cons related to increased crime assume that drug abusers are untrustworthy and perpetuate crime. On the other hand, it’s worth considering that negative outcomes are certainly possible. Naloxone alone will not fix the epidemic.

Decide for Yourself

Now that you’ve reviewed the research, it’s easier to take an informed stance. Should the life-saving antidote be available over the counter, or is there validity to the arguments against it? If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate addiction, don’t wait until it’s too late to seek help. Contact The Ranch PA today to learn about how we can get you on the path to sober living.

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