Since the inception of the first program offering free naloxone handouts in Chicago roughly 16 years ago, the Harm Reduction Coalition estimates that 10,000 lives have been saved by the prescription antidote. Paramedics and hospitals have used the medication for decades to halt potentially fatal overdoses caused by opiate drugs such as heroin or prescription painkillers like OxyContin, and now many are working hard to make the drug available to those in need.
The phenomenon of free naloxone handouts is a recent trend driven mostly by public health officials in the hopes of saving lives. These harm reduction programs target specific groups including:
- Professionals. Programs put naloxone in the hands of professionals such as firefighters and police officers who have an increased risk of running across an individual on the verge of a deadly opiate overdose.
- Opiate addicts. These individuals are encouraged to carry naloxone with them and to let others know they have it in case it becomes necessary to use it.
- Family of opiate addicts. These individuals are at a heightened risk of witnessing an overdose in progress, while still being sober enough to use naloxone if it is needed.
Critics of Free Naloxone Program Believe It Encourages Addiction
Those who do not support the naloxone giveaways feel that such policies deter addicts from seeking treatment because the fear of overdose is no longer as acute. This debate is just another form of the one that has raged over clean needle exchange programs for heroin in order to stop the spread of AIDS. Just like this age-old argument, opponents say that the programs make drug use easier and discourage addicts from seeking rehab, while supporters believe they are reducing harm and saving lives while putting addicts in regular contact with resources that can move them closer to accepting treatment and getting clean and sober.
Experts Say Something Needs to Be Done to Counteract Skyrocketing Opiate Overdoses
Addiction experts worry that something needs to be done and fast; the number of deaths due to opiate overdose is escalating rapidly. Over the past 10 years, the number of heroin overdoses has doubled and deaths due to prescription opiate painkillers have increased fourfold, surpassing the number of fatalities from motor vehicle accidents each year in some states.
Until a better solution is found, naloxone may be the best weapon against accidental overdose. In many cases, it means the difference between a person living or dying while they wait for an ambulance to arrive. Normally, the drug can only be purchased with a prescription; however, there are now 50 programs nationwide that make it available to addicts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these programs distribute naloxone to more than 188 locations where it is made available to those in need.
Do you think the free naloxone programs are beneficial or just encourage drug abuse? Share your thoughts below.