In Connecticut, there were 2,231 opioid-involved deaths from 1997 to 2007. Nationwide, 18- to 24-year-olds are more likely to die from drug overdoses, primarily from prescription pain relievers, than from motor vehicle accidents.
Connecticut residents can be proud of the fact that we have a statute that allows for access to Naloxone for overdose reversal and we have a Good Samaritan law that protects someone from arrest if they call 911 to save a life while in possession of drug paraphernalia. Narcan has no street value, few if any side effects, can be administered either nasally or intramuscularly, and is much safer to administer than an Epi-pen. Narcan provides a 30- to 90-minute window of opportunity to call 911 and get someone to the emergency room.
Given the spate of recent, high-profile opioid overdoses and news media coverage of overdoses in Connecticut’s Northwest corner, it’s distressing that the antidote for opioid overdose (Naloxone) is missing from that discussion. Narcan © (Naloxone) is an opioid antagonist currently available through a prescription that is capable of reversing an opioid overdose and saving a life. Although the presence of a solution to the immediate, life-threatening problem of overdose would seemingly be popular, Naloxone overdose programs have not grown at a rate to prevent the tragic and unnecessary accidental deaths from opioid overdoses.
Why is Naloxone even necessary? Why not refer everyone to treatment? There are two problems with that conceptualization. First, there are insufficient treatment centers in Connecticut to handle the number of patients who require treatment for opioid dependence. Second, not everyone who is at risk for overdose is willing to accept treatment. A refusal to accept treatment should not result in a denial to access something that can reverse an overdose. Treatment for the diabetic is never denied if the patient wants to eat doughnuts. Possibly the young adult who is using heroin today and refusing treatment may live, with the help of Naloxone, to some day enter treatment.
There are highly successful Narcan distribution programs in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island that Connecticut would do well to emulate. Massachusetts has a model program in the Northeast where Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), police and firefighters are trained in administering Naloxone when responding to an overdose. Rhode Island and Massachusetts both have programs where people can obtain Narcan at participating pharmacies through a standing order from a medical provider or a collaborative agreement.
We have an opportunity to increase access to Naloxone by providing more information and education to medical providers, substance abuse treatment programs, pain management programs, pharmacists, family members, and others about the importance of this life-saving medication. If you are a person who takes prescription opioids or heroin, ask your medical provider about the risk of overdose and the availability of Naloxone.
There is no logical reason to fail to support the antidote to an opioid induced death and we have every reason to advocate for the expansion of something that could save your life or the life of someone you love.
Shawn Lang is the director of public policy at AIDS Connecticut.