As the medical community continues searching for ways to curb opioid-related deaths through treatment and management, the pharmaceutical industry proceeds with pushing for naloxone, a generic drug also known as Narcan – and the results are paying off.
A new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that naloxone kits were responsible for 26,463 overdose reversals during an 18-year period.
The Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), an organization dedicated to advocating for broader access to naloxone, an opioid antagonist used to reverse the effects of narcotic drugs, surveyed 136 organizations that provided naloxone kits to 152,283 laypersons from 1996 through June 2014.
Naloxone kits are assembled in a variety of ways, but they typically include the drug, written material about overdose prevention and using naloxone, and other additional safety items.
Previous research concluded that physicians have been reluctant to prescribe naloxone with opioid prescriptions. Some prescribers worried about bystanders using naloxone on someone who is experiencing an overdose.
Study author Eliza Weeler, DOPE Project Manager at HRC, said people can learn how to recognize an opioid overdose and use the drug, which is available in a nasal spray or an injectable form, in less than 10 minutes.
Naloxone only lasts between 30-90 minutes, which means it’s possible for an overdose to reoccur. The HRC recommends that the administrator stay with the individual until the risk period is over.
There are a variety of initiatives underway to assist with making naloxone more accessible to colleges and universities, public safety organizations and community organizations. President Obama has also made it one of his priorities to make naloxone more readily available to first responders.
Weeler believes naloxone kits should be made available at syringe exchanges, jails, drug treatment programs, any program that provides services to people who use drugs, parents and family groups.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a drug treatment provider, said in an interview that having naloxone readily available doesn’t mean addicts will begin taking larger doses of opioids.
“The reason this isn’t a concern is that getting rescued with naloxone is an extremely unpleasant experience — the naloxone causes opioid withdrawal symptoms,” he said. “The person who gets rescued with naloxone feels awful when they regain consciousness.”
The CDC earlier in the year reported that there were 16,235 deaths involving prescription opioids in 2013, an increase of 1% from 2012. There were 8,257 heroin-related deaths in 2013, up 39% from 2012. Total drug overdose deaths in 2013 hit 43,982, up 6% from 2012.