Distributing Naloxone to the Community Saves Lives
As rates of opioid addiction and overdose continue to climb, public officials are grappling with effective ways of responding to this public health problem. One strategy for preventing opioid overdose deaths is through the use of naloxone, a medication that blocks the effects of opioids.
The benefits of naloxone
Naloxone can be administered to someone who is experiencing an overdose by emergency personnel, such as police officers and emergency medical technicians, and also by lay people, such as friends and family members. Furthermore, the drug can be administered with minimal training. This characteristic of naloxone gives friends and family members an opportunity to be on the front line of helping those near them who may be misusing or addicted to opioids. Because friends, family, and other people with addiction are usually the first people to have contact with individuals experiencing an opioid overdose, being able to administer naloxone immediately can provide life-saving minutes so that 911 can be called and proper medical care can be given before it’s too late.
Naloxone saves lives
Naloxone is effective in saving lives. Recent data show how many lives naloxone has saved when delivered by non-medical professionals.
In late June, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released data from community-based programs that distribute naloxone kits to lay people. According to the CDC findings, from 1996-2014, community-based programs reported that 26,463 overdoses were reversed as a result of getting more naloxone kits into the hands of community members. These data show that naloxone has been successful in saving lives and suggest that more lives can be saved if naloxone were distributed to more lay people.
Getting naloxone into the hands of more people
However, there are challenges to expanding the distribution and use of naloxone by non-medical professionals, primarily in terms of legal barriers. Without legal protections, people with substance use problems who witness an overdose may be reluctant to call 911. They may fear prosecution for possession of illegal substances like heroin. In addition, criminal and civil penalties for the possession and administration of naloxone can deter people who could otherwise help someone experiencing overdose. In order to address these barriers, states must pass “Good Samaritan” laws that provide criminal immunity against drug possession charges for those who are experiencing overdose and those who call 911 for help. And rescue drug laws may also provide legal protections for individuals who prescribe, possess and administer naloxone.
Currently, less than half (22) of states have these kinds of laws. This year, Connecticut and Florida passed legislation that expanded access to naloxone. Kentucky and West Virginia also passed legislation offering protection from arrest for those who call for emergency help and those who experience overdose. Numerous advocates, legislators and organizations deserve credit for seeing these legislative reforms through. The nonprofit organization Shatterproof has championed these reforms and tracks progress states have made. The remaining states without Good Samaritan and rescue drug laws should consider the feasibility of enacting these laws and expanding naloxone distribution to protect public health while the opioid overdose epidemic continues to grow.
Mark Stovell is a freelance blogger for CASAColumbia