Heroin is cheap, highly accessible and it’s fast-becoming the go-to drug for teens and adults in every income bracket across the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2011, over 4.2 million Americans reported using heroin at least once in their life. Heroin overdose is at an all-time high despite the existence of a drug that can quickly reverse the effects – naloxone.
Heroin is an illegal, addictive form of morphine, and cheaper than its opioid cousins including Demerol, oxycodone, fentanyl and Percocet. Using the drug produces a feeling of euphoria, often within seconds if the drug is injected. It can also be snorted and smoked. Heroin can be cut (mixed) with a variety of different substances to reduce or increase the potency including natural ingredients like baking powder, starch, and sugar, but also with other drugs and even poison. Users are never completely sure about the strength, leading to thousands of overdose cases every year.
Last year, states like Kentucky, Wisconsin and Chicago reported a significant increase in deaths from heroin abuse and overdose, furthering the request by family members, friends, social workers and EMT personnel, for more states to make naloxone available to the public. Naloxone (Narcan) can be given via nasal spray or as an injection. If administered in time, the medication works within minutes to counteract heroin’s depression of the central nervous and respiratory symptoms by running blocker and adhering to brain receptors. It also creates immediate and sometimes painful withdrawal symptoms.
Although naloxone is not expensive, $10 – $50 per dose, it is only attainable with a prescription meaning it may not be readily available to first-responders and family members who may be the first to discover a victim of overdose. While more and more cities are supplying police departments with the medication (some batches even being paid for by money seized from drug busts), friends, family members and drug users themselves are now asking for access.
Recent deaths by Glee’s Cory Monteith and award winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman have intensified the debate, although most admit that naloxone probably would not have been enough to save either man since they were found alone.
Some lawmakers are leery about giving naloxone directly to addicts and friends stating it might give users a false sense of security, but social workers and others who see drug addiction from the trenches say it’s a must-have life-saving tool.