As communities across the nation struggle with an opioid epidemic, there’s a medication — that’s not widely known — that can reverse the effects of an overdose and save lives. Its generic name is naloxone.
About 75 people attended a June 15 seminar on opioid addiction and the benefits of naloxone moderated by Judge Shawn Crane, who presides in the sixth circuit.
Law enforcement officers, health care providers and a local pharmacist shared their expertise during a panel discussion. People recovering from addiction or helping family members to recover also shared their insights.
Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) sponsored the seminar at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in New Port Richey.
The opioid epidemic is widely known.
Data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates more than 650,000 prescriptions of opioid pain pills are dispensed daily. While the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans consume more than 80 percent of the world’s opioid supply.
China is a major manufacturer of illicit opioids, such as fentanyl and its derivatives.
Since 1999, the rate of deaths from opioid overdoses has quadrupled, including deaths from illegal use of heroin and other opioid synthetics, according to health and human services statistics.
On average 78 people in the country die every day from an opioid-related overdose, the department reports.
Health care providers and law enforcement officers are trying to spread the word that naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose.
While the medication doesn’t eliminate the need for emergency medical care and treatment, it can save lives.
Naloxone is available to anyone at area pharmacies, and can be administered as an injection or through a nasal spray.
Crane and law enforcement officers agreed that the most prevalent drug of choice among addicts is methamphetamine.
“It’s cheap,” Crane said.
But, there is an increase in opioid pain medications from prescriptions or their synthetics. The use of heroin also is on the increase.
“It’s important that people know law enforcement understands that we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” said Sherryl Johnson-Tandy, a corporal with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. “Drug addiction is a public health issue.”
Every Pasco deputy, as of April, carries naloxone as a nasal spray – sold under the name Narcan. The deputies can use the spray as first responders on the scene, without waiting for emergency medical personnel to arrive.
“We have a unique opportunity to make contact with people who are in their greatest need,” said Pasco Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Jenkins. “In an overdose, every second counts. It was a no-brainer for us.”
Johnson-Tandy said Narcan also is a protection for first responders.
During investigations, officers, or their K-9 partners, can inadvertently ingest or inhale opioids. Especially dangerous are the opioid synthetics, fentanyl or carfentanil. They could have an overdose and need Narcan immediately. Emergency medics also are at risk.
Cesar Rodriguez is a recovering addict, and serves on the ASAP Recovery Committee. He used heroin for about seven years, and nearly died from an overdose. Naloxone saved him, he said.
There is a stigma attached to addiction, but Rodriguez said, “We do recover and become productive members of society. We can turn around and help the next recovering addict.”
Naloxone also saved Lisa Conca’s son, who has been in and out of rehabilitation programs for about eight years. In years of seeking help, Conca said no one ever told her about naloxone. “I just want to pay it forward and help our community,” she said. “It’s a disease of the brain, not a moral failing. Every life deserves a chance.”
Kent Runyon likened naloxone to the automated emergency defibrillators. The portable devices save people who are having heart attacks, and can be found in public places, such as offices, gymnasiums or shopping malls, he said.
People can keep naloxone doses at work, at home, or in a purse.
“We need to do everything we can to put every tool in the box to help people live,” said Runyon, who is vice president of community relations for Novus Medical.
Asking for naloxone at any pharmacy is easy, said Ashley Huff, a Walgreen’s pharmacist.
Some health insurance plans pay for it; others don’t. But pharmacies treat naloxone requests in the same way as flu shot requests, she said.
“We don’t ask any questions,” Huff said. “Anyone can get it, and get as many prescriptions as you want, as long as you are willing to pay for them.”
A nasal spray kit, with two nasal sprays, can cost about $135. But, doses for injection can be about $20 each, although two doses are recommended, Huff said.
In some cases, one dose won’t be enough and a second would be administered soon after.
The most expensive medication is sold as Evzio at a cost of more than $4,500. It is an auto-injector, similar to the Epi-pen that is sold to people with asthma.
People with addictions aren’t the only ones who should get naloxone, Huff added. Anyone who gets an opioid prescription should consider naloxone — as a precaution against an accidental overdose, she said.
Published June 28, 2017