Recently, an Ohio Sheriff rocked the country with a bold and brash policy: his police force will not administer the life-saving drug Narcan to overdosing addicts. Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio, defends this policy by simply stating, “I’m not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick that needle in their arm.”
What is Narcan?
To get a little background on the situation, Naloxone, or brand-name Narcan, is the antidote to opioid overdoses. Narcan is sprayed up a person’s nose and it immediately reverses the effect of opioid overdoses, or at least in the best-case scenario. Sometimes, overdoses require multiple doses of Narcan to be successful.
Narcan was originally patented in 1961 and was finally approved for opioid overdose by the FDA in 1971. In developing countries, the drug is relatively cheap and attainable. It varies from $.50 to $5.30 per dose. However, in the United States, the difference in cost is shocking, to say the least. Back in 2014, it cost nearly $700 for a package of two auto-injectors. In 2016, the price of Narcan jumped to $4,500 for the same package of two auto-injectors.
That’s right. In the last few years, as the opioid crisis has exploded in the USA, the price for Narcan has increased six-fold. This has not only put a strain on the budgets for emergency responders but also now put a price on the life of over-dosing addicts. And it is this financial strain that is exactly the main reason cited by Jones as to why we need to use Narcan sparingly.
Nickeling and Diming Lives
As middle-America is ravaged by the opioid epidemic, with over 33,000 deaths attributed to overdoses in 2015, Ohio is one of the worst hit places. Ohio has experienced a 775% jump in opioid related deaths in the past decade alone. Another Ohio public servant has jumped on the anti-Narcan band wagon for this reason.
In Middletown, Ohio, council member Dan Picard went on national television and proposed the idea that addicts only receive three doses of Narcan. In the “3-strike” policy, if the addict had been administered three doses of Narcan and is overdosing again, emergency responders would withhold the life-saving drug, even if it could potentially save the addict’s life.
Picard insists that tending to overdosing addicts has put their town in financial crisis, which is on track to spending over $100,000 on Narcan this year alone. This puts the city 10 times over budget. City Manager Douglas Adkins announced at the city’s 10th Heroin Summit, that the town “Will spend $1.5 million a year responding to and reacting to opioid addiction problems in the city. That’s money that could be spent on other priorities.”
Picard, Adkins, and Jones all stand firm that providing Narcan to addicts is merely coddling them and in no way slowing down the opioid epidemic. If they keep up at the rate they’re going, Ohio is facing bankruptcy. They believe that is merely ineffective and that if addicts want to put themselves in danger, that’s their prerogative. But the government will no longer be footing the bill.
The Opioid Epidemic and Compassion Fatigue
Sheriff Jones has insisted that they’re fighting a losing battle. He believes what needs to be implemented is stronger prevention efforts as opposed to medical intervention during an overdose. He also insisted that those revived by Narcan wake up violent, as they go into immediate withdrawals. This is not true.
Despite all of the media coverage of the naysayers, this anti-Narcan front is not the stance all lawmakers in Ohio and the Rust Belt states are taking. Many neighboring police forces to Jones’ jurisdiction do in fact carry and administer the drug willingly and gladly.
Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition, which is responsible for advocating for policies reducing human consequences of drug use refers to this negative attitude as “compassion fatigue.” Essentially, due to the stark increase of emergency calls and the clogging up of the health care industry by addicts, people, emergency responders included, are starting to feel less and less sympathy for addicts.
As the attitude shifts, we’re starting to get away from finding a viable solution. The vicious cycle of revival and relapse is making lawmakers and emergency responders begin to feel hopeless and jaded. Whether we like it or not though, what’s going on in the country with the opioid epidemic is not going away, whether we remove Narcan from the equation or not.
Finding Middle Ground
Now, for the fun part. Statistics and financial frugality aside, people are dying. People had long looked at Narcan as the “cure-all” for the opioid epidemic but seem to forget the sole purpose of the drug is merely reverse an overdose, not addiction itself. As a recovering addict myself, I can attest to the power opioids can have over the people they enslave.
We’re attacking the outcome rather than the cause. I agree with Sheriff Jones in the sense that we need to deal more with prevention, but not that we should refuse Narcan treatment to overdosing addicts. A better understanding of addiction as a whole is necessary. Many people are inadvertently ignorant to the reality of the disease of addiction and all that it entails.
We need to find a middle ground between parties if we are to ever overcome the opioid crisis in America. Rather than fighting amongst ourselves, we need to turn our attention to the matter at hand. Heroin is getting more and more potent, and Narcan is getting more and more expensive. Coincidence? Probably not.
But whether the opioid epidemic is a conspiracy or not is immaterial, people are dying every day in droves around the country. Access to treatment needs to be more readily available as well as a revamp of addiction education for the masses. The negative attitude and stigma posed towards addicts by officials and citizens alike needs to be addressed. We need to work together to overcome the opioid crisis. Narcan isn’t the problem, the disease of addiction is.
In Need of Detox?
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