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Medicines the Reverse Overdose Reduce Opioid Deaths: Is It Positive for Our Society or Does It Encourage Opioid Use?


In 2017, almost fifty thousand Americans died of opioid-related overdoses. Unfortunately, this number is comparable to the number of deaths from gun violence and car accidents. However, research suggests that this exceptionally high number could have been lower if people had received Naloxone, the medication that reverses opioid-related overdoses. 

What Is Naloxone?

Naloxone is a highly effective, safe, and non-addictive opioid-related overdose medication available as a nasal spray or an injection. When it is used quickly following an overdose, Naloxone reduces the likelihood of brain damage from the reduced blood flow due to the overdose. However, to be effective, it has to be available at the time it is needed and administered by someone trained to give it. Currently, first responders equipped with this life-saving medicine include firefighters, EMTs, and police officers. However, even EMTs may not have Naloxone on hand when they need it, and most states within the United States only allow intermediate and advanced-level EMTs to carry and administer the drug. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, basic-trained EMT’s are the only first responders instantly available in emergencies.

Another big problem is that the actual first responders are often friends and family of the individual using opioids and overdosing. Very few of these individuals have access to Naloxone. The need for someone close by to have access to this life-saving medication is imperative to battle the opioid crisis.  

How Is Naloxone Obtained by the Public, and At What Cost?

One obtains Naloxone through a prescription from a doctor, a community distribution center, or from pharmacies in states that do not require a prescription to get it. Currently, there are over 40 states that allow pharmacists to dispense this medication without a prescription. Unfortunately, many pharmacies do not stock it. 

Since opioid-related deaths are soaring, there is a push to make this life-saving medicine more available to the public. The general public exposed to opioid overdoses must have access to Naloxone because many witnesses of overdose hesitate when calling 911 for fear of arrest, losing government benefits, and the associated stigma or shame. Furthermore, health centers are training people who are likely to witness overdoses on how to recognize the signs of an overdose and then give them Naloxone for free. However, data suggests that communities with high opioid-related death rates do not have these programs available to their residents.

The price of some Naloxone medications has risen since 2009, sometimes almost doubling in price per dose. In 2017, a city in Ohio spent upwards of $35,000 in administered Naloxone in nearly one thousand opioid-overdose calls. This amount was three times the amount spent in the year prior. Unfortunately, due to these substantial cost increases, local government officials suggested refusing to resuscitate people who repeatedly overdose.

Naloxone is Cost-Effective for Society

The opioid crisis is hurting low-income communities due to the loss of economic productivity related to fatal overdoses. Therefore, Naloxone saves society money. Although it is an expense for the community, it leads to saving money since it keeps more of the workforce of that community alive and contributing to society. Therefore, the most cost-effective way to battle opioid-related deaths is to distribute Naloxone to all groups involved in the opioid crisis, including the general public, firefighters, police officers, and EMTs. If low-income communities have trouble affording the medicine, the next option is to give the medication to the general public in that area, and at least one first responder group assigned to that area.

The study found that when the general public, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs have Naloxone, it costs about $16,000 per year. Conversely, defibrillators used to revive those in cardiac arrest cost over $50,000 per year, while new cancer drugs cost over $100,000 per year. Therefore, Naloxone saves society money, and it even saves the cost associated with opioid use and the criminal justice system. 

Does Naloxone’s Availability Encourage Opioid Use?

Some argue that increasing access to Naloxone will encourage opioid use, saying that it becomes a sort of “safety net,” in which those who suffer an overdose may not feel the need to seek treatment for their substance use disorder (SUD). This belief system is known as a “moral hazard,” which occurs with life-saving interventions that encourage reckless behaviors. Historically, the opposition of seat belts and condoms fed into this idea of “moral hazard.” For example, society once thought that condoms would make people engage in more reckless sexual behaviors, and seat belts will make people engage in more reckless driving behaviors. Often, politicians and policymakers combine the “moral hazard” argument with discussions on budgets to oppose distributing Naloxone on a larger scale. Although there is no evidence that the availability of Naloxone encourages opioid use, the argument remains persistent.

The research shows that we can substantially decrease opioid-related overdoses with the increased availability of life-saving medicines such as Naloxone. However, the question of its availability creating an environment of promoted opioid use is persistent. Society as a whole and communities ravaged by the opioid crisis need to figure out what is best for their particular challenges in dealing with the opioid epidemic. Furthermore, treatment is available, and there is hope for life-long recovery. At Enlightened Solutions, we understand the ever-changing circumstances of addiction and that the development of a substance use disorder is a unique journey dependent upon many influences. If you or someone you know has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.