Narcan is Saving Lives – What’s the Controversy?

If you have kept up to date with the major developments in the fight against drug addiction, then you know what a lifesaver naloxone, better known as Narcan, has been. This opiate antidote, which is designed to be administered to a drug user in the throes of an overdose, has seen increased prevalence in its use recently, with more law enforcement officials and civilians alike trained to administer it. With that, more lives have been saved from drug-related deaths.

In early September, an Indiana state trooper saved the life of a man who he was in the process of taking into custody. Late August saw police officers in Ellsworth, Maine revive an unconscious man who was not breathing with multiple doses. Community initiatives across the country have set up training programs to teach people how to use the antidote properly, which experts believe is key to decreasing the amount of fatal overdoses.

Yet not everyone is convinced that this is an altogether good thing, most notably the Governor of Maine, Paul LePage. Earlier this year, LePage vetoed a bill that would allow pharmacists to provide the drug to people, prescription-free, saying that it would only serve “to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.” LePage believes that the drug does not serve to save lives, “it merely extends them until the next overdose.”This is no doubt surprising to hear coming from the Governor whose state is currently facing a huge opioid epidemic, especially when so many lives in his state have indeed been saved by naloxone.

Now, LePage’s track record suggests a general insensitivity regarding this issue, making him a less than stellar point of reference for people looking for a level-headed view. However, as difficult as it may be to admit, the governor’s concerns speak to the larger issue of how the law deals with people who are addicted to drugs. Naloxone is often administered at the scene of an overdose, or en route to medical care. But after the individual who has overdosed is released from that medical care, there is often no follow-up on their prognosis. There is, in most cases, no mandatory rehab, no extended hospital stay to detox. This, in essence, allows a drug user to immediately fall back into the same bad habits that led them to needing the antidote in the first place, and thus the vicious cycle continues.

While this is no reason to prevent access to a lifesaving drug, it is certainly enough to give people pause. Reports of people being saved by Narcan multiple times are unfortunately all too common. Communicating with someone who is addicted to drugs is hard enough; getting them to commit to receiving help with their problem is even harder. That, compounded with the cost of going to rehabilitation, makes conquering the societal problem of drug addiction seem like a nearly impossible task.

However, there is reason to believe that progress is being made. Pilot programs, such as the one in Camden County, New Jersey, aim to convince those who have needed Narcan to change their ways, offering the treatment services necessary for them to get healthy again. New Jersey State Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo has called on high schools in the state to carry Narcan as a mandatory precautionary tactic. It certainly seems as though there is a real shift in public opinion to not only save the lives of those dealing with the disease of addiction in the heat of an overdose, but to ensure that they get the help they so desperately need in its aftermath.

For now, we will wait and see what comes of these developments.