In a news release presented before the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta today, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams encouraged Americans to start carrying the overdose antidote Naloxone (also known as Narcan) to prevent more opiate overdose deaths.
Naloxone is a syringe-based medication, while Narcan is available as a double pack nasal spray (two, so in case the first application of the spray does not revive the person who has overdosed, which is often the case). In both instances, these life-saving antidotes can be purchased over the counter in the state of Ohio from pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. They’re covered by some insurance plans, but average around $130 per kit for the uninsured.
The overwhelming majority of those impacted by the high price tag for the antidote are white males between the ages of 18-34, but numbers are likely to increase across all demographics as the epidemic expands and health insurance becomes less and less accessible.
Adams stated, “Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose – that’s one person every 12.5 minutes.” In Cuyahoga Count alone, there were at least 822 overdose deaths last year, an increase of over 156 from 2016. As we reported just three days ago, of the 477 fentanyl-related fatalities in 2017, 200 of those were attributed to a fentanyl/cocaine combination. This is up from 92 fentanyl and 24 fentanyl/cocaine related deaths registered in 2015.
Cleveland nurse Natalie King is a proud advocate for the normalization and accessibility of overdose antidotes. “I 100 percent support expanding access to Narcan,” she said. “To withhold lifesaving intervention as a punishment for having the diseases that they do is barbaric and inhumane.” The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research revealed that 53 percent of Americans view drug addiction as a disease, but only 1 in 5 are willing to closely associate with someone suffering from drug addiction as a friend, co-worker or neighbor. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes drug addiction as a long-term, treatable brain disease.
I try to explain to those who oppose with compassion, hoping they’ll hear me and try to empathize even a little what it’s like for those who struggle with addiction and their families. It’s usually met with opposition, and anger. – Natalie King
King’s sister is one of the many tragic victims of the Ohio opiate crisis. “People on social media have actually said to me ‘I do not feel bad for your sister. She chose to put that poison in her veins and become a junkie. Good Riddance.’ It’s horrifying.” King and many like her have seen the firsthand impact of opiate addiction, and the Surgeon General’s encouragement to carry overdose antidotes feels like a step in the right direction. King continued, “Those who don’t want to understand ever will, but fortunately I feel that mentality is dying out and society is becoming more aware. More conscious.”
The Surgeon General continued, “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77% of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.” Similarly to how people with severe allergies carry around the life saving EpiPen, normalizing the overdose antidote has the potential to save hundreds of lives. Adams hopes those who are at risk — as well as their friends and family members — will keep the antidote on hand and learn how to use it.
“We have a long way to go, but I’m hopeful,” King said.