A drug that used to be present only in emergency rooms and ambulances as an antidote for a drug overdose is now being made available to addicts themselves, as well as their families.
The drug, which carries the generic name naloxone, counteracts the effects of such drugs as heroin and OxyContin, as well as other powerful painkillers. In recent years, public officials have resorted to distributing the drug to addicts and their loved ones, as well as some police and firefighters, for free.
These free antidotes have saved more than 10,000 lives, since the first program was begun in Chicago in 1996, based on the results of a survey conducted by the Harm Reduction Coalition, a group that strives to reduce the consequences of drug use.
The program, however, elicits mixed reactions. Advocates of the program believe that having naloxone, normally issued only through a prescription, in the home saves lives which may otherwise be lost while waiting for help to arrive.
Dr. Russell Portenoy, chairman of pain medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, shared: “The question has always been: How can we get people treated before they die? If an overdose of the drug is taken at home, you won’t have enough time to get that patient to the emergency room before respiratory depression leads to death.”
Others, however, believe that easy access to an antidote may accommodate drug use, and make it less likely for addicts to seek treatment.
Hilary Jacobs, deputy director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services in Massachusetts, shared, however: “If you’ve ever talked to a parent who watched their kid overdose, you wouldn’t wonder why we are doing this.”