Many lives have been saved by a dose of Naloxone – the powerful antidote drug that can reverse a heroin overdose within minutes. There’s been a push to make Naloxone more widely available; in fact, the drugstore chain Walgreens dispenses the drug without a prescription in more than 5,800 stores across the United States. Is Naloxone the answer to our country’s opiate epidemic? There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding this “miracle” drug, and it’s important to understand the risks and downsides as well as the benefits.
Naloxone and Your Body
Although Naloxone is able to prevent a fatal overdose from occurring, it has harsh effects on the body, forcing a user into immediate withdrawal. For people who are struggling with opiate addiction, withdrawal can be an intense and difficult experience. Some individuals may try to take extra opiate drugs to stop their withdrawal symptoms, which can dangerous and even deadly consequences. An abrupt withdrawal can also cause complications such as seizure, stroke, and heart attack, so it’s best to be in the care of a medically supervised opiate detox program when you quit taking an opiate drug.
Addiction: A Vicious Cycle
Another concern about Naloxone is that it enables people who are already caught in a cycle of drug addiction. The drug’s effectiveness may lead users to view it as a safety net of sorts–with Naloxone on hand, people may feel free to push their drug use to new limits. Police officers and other first responders report that it’s not uncommon to revive the same person on two or three different occasions. Naloxone offers a short-term solution to the dangers of overdose, but only a drug treatment program can help an individual make long-term changes. Without outpatient or residential drug rehab, the cycle of addiction is likely to continue.
The Need for Addiction Treatment
In many cases, a dose of Naloxone could prevent an otherwise fatal overdose, but people who are using illicit drugs may be afraid to call 911 and risk being arrested. Many states have enacted Good Samaritan laws to encourage individuals to seek emergency assistance if they witness a drug overdose. These laws provide a degree of immunity to people who have committed minor drug violations but have summoned emergency help for an overdose. Incarceration hasn’t proven to help relieve the country’s drug problem–the best therapy for substance abuse can be found at treatment centers, not prisons. Drug programs can provide individuals with the tools and skills they need to stay on the road to long-term recovery.
Heroin and other opiate drugs account for the majority of drug overdoses in the United States, so it’s not surprising that there’s a push to make Naloxone more widely accessible. The drug is capable of saving lives when used properly, but there are risks and downsides that need to be considered. Naloxone can’t take the place of a comprehensive drug treatment program, and it may encourage reckless drug use that makes the nation’s opiate epidemic even worse.