Naloxone is a drug used in emergencies to save the lives of those in the middle of a heroin overdose. When used on someone experiencing an overdose, this medicine temporarily blocks the opiate effects, allowing a person to breathe again long enough for help to arrive. In fact, the drug has been used for decades among paramedics as well as within the drug community, and it has saved thousands of lives. However, recently, more and more organizations have made the drug accessible to laypersons so that they too can use it to save lives.
Many national and federal organizations have adopted policies that make Naloxone more accessible to the public. These organizations include The American Medical Association, The American Society of Addiction Medicine, The American Association of Poison Control Centers, The Office of National Drug Control Policy, The World Health Organization, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
How Does Naloxone Work?
Naloxone can be injected or administered intra-nasally and has minimal effects in people who have not used opioids. This life-saving drug contains specific opioid receptor antagonists that can reverse an opioid overdose. In one case, they injected the treatment drug into the nose of someone they found unconscious and within 30 seconds, he gasped, started breathing, and opened his eyes. In fact, more and more first response professionals, such as police officers and paramedics, are becoming equipped with the life-saving drug Naloxone. Among the millions of Americans who are addicted to opiates, whether that’s heroin or painkillers, this new drug is a way to prevent death by drug overdose right at the scene.
It’s clear that if this drug were allowed to be in more and more hands around the country, there needs to be more education on the drug and how to use it in an emergency. For instance, one study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy explored the use of non-medical prescription opioid use in adults ages 18-32. Research surveys assessed an individual’s knowledge on what might induce an overdose experience as well as the likelihood of drug overdose. Surveys were in-depth and semi-structured interviews and also explored their knowledge of opioid safety practices and overdose prevention services available to them.
Knowing the Dangers of Overdoses
The study revealed that most participants were not aware of overdose dangers and how to respond to a potential overdose. Many participants were not aware of the use of Naloxone as a means for prevention nor how to access the emergency drug. Furthermore, many participants were not aware of any addiction treatment centers in their neighborhood nor were they aware of syringe exchange programs (SEPs). The research study specifically interviewed the high risk group of young adults and explored their knowledge of what to do when in the presence of a friend who is overdosing. Most responded with primitive suggestions such as slapping someone or placing them in a cold shower as a means to revive an individual who is overdosing on opioids. Some responders referred to the movie Pulp Fiction, which includes an overdose reversal scene, one that is not realistic.
As more and more laypeople have access to the drug, it’s clear that they will also need education on what triggers overdoses and what to do in an overdose emergency. Specifically, individuals must learn how to use the drug to save lives. Once lives are saved, survivors can go on to long-term addiction treatment. Research has shown that the best combination of treatment include medication to manage the withdrawal symptoms, as well as therapy to address the behavioral and psychological issues that contributed to the addiction in the first place. Addiction treatment helps facilitate creating a new lifestyle in which different daily choices are made, creating a strong support system, and examining the thoughts and behaviors that might be contributing to the cycle of addiction.