Naloxone saves lives, but it does not treat addiction. On its own, it cannot prevent overdoses or addiction-related crime, nor can it resolve the opioid epidemic. The problem highlighted by the working paper Ms. McArdle mentioned is not that naloxone encourages people suffering from addiction to take risks; it is the lack of good treatment options available to individuals with opioid addiction. Medication-assisted treatment is lifesaving for opioid addiction, yet few receive it following an overdose. Most are simply released upon revival and medical stabilization.
Pervasive stigma against addiction is responsible for the lack of available treatment. As a society, we continually fail to treat addiction as we treat other diseases. Naloxone is akin to a defibrillator, which can restart a patient’s heart but won’t cure underlying heart disease. It is difficult to imagine that defibrillators would be described as a moral hazard for individuals who do not make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of heart disease.
We must stop searching for a “silver bullet” to address this crisis and recognize that a comprehensive approach is needed. If we don’t provide effective treatment to individuals who suffer an overdose, we are not using naloxone to its full potential.
Lindsey Vuolo, New York
The writer is associate director of health law and policy at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.