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  • Noelani Won

The Importance of Narcan for Lay People

Learn how to address the overdose epidemic by increasing access to Narcan.

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, an equally important epidemic needs to be addressed: the overdose epidemic. The issue surrounding overdoses has long been prevalent, however there has been a significant uptick in overdoses throughout the pandemic. Recent data from the CDC indicates that from September 2019 to August 2020 “there were 88,295 predicted deaths, a record high that is almost 19,000 more deaths (27%) than the prior 12-month period”. Contextualized with the physical and mental difficulties the pandemic has caused, this statistic is not surprising. Substance abuse disorders often overlap with other mental health issues, which makes social distancing and quarantining that much more lonely and distressing. Additionally, CDC guidelines on social distancing made seeking help more difficult, since support group meetings could no longer be in person. In order to properly address the overdose epidemic, we must first understand the correlated issue: substance abuse disorders.


Substance abuse disorders are often commonly misunderstood in society. Johns Hopkins Medical defines substance abuse disorders as “a pattern of using a substance (drug) that causes significant problems or distress” and while many people think substance abuse only refers to illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine, it can also refer to legal substance like prescription medication or alcohol. In terms of overdoses, not all overdoses are fatal, and they can happen from the use of both stimulants (cocaine, meth, etc.) and depressants (opioids, alcohol, etc.). While overdoses do not only happen to people with substance abuse disorders, people with substance abuse disorders are at a higher risk.


So what can be done to combat this issue? One important step is increasing the general public’s awareness of the importance of treatments like Naloxone (Narcan). Narcan is a medication that can reverse the effects of opioids by “counteracting life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally” which can ultimately save someone’s life. While Narcan only works for opioids related overdoses, increasing public access and knowledge about Narcan could facilitate a drastic decrease in opioid related fatal overdoses. However, Narcan laws are not universal. Some states only allow EMTs and trained personnel access to the product, while in other states, Narcan can be purchased at CVS. Narcan can be administered through intramuscular shots or a nasal spray, so there are options that allow for anyone from a common college student to a licensed MD to be able to reverse an opioid overdose.


Increasing public access to this medication and to administrative training is controversial. Not everyone thinks that increasing public access to Narcan is the best way to combat the opioid overdose epidemic. If everyone had a container of Narcan nasal spray on them, they would be prepared to save a life at a moment’s notice. This would be crucial to saving lives in cities particularly afflicted with high opioid overdose rates. The general public needs to stop stigmatizing overdoses and substance abuse disorders and recognize them for the legitimate public health issue that they are.


Sources:

https://preventionsolutions.edc.org/services/resources/state-naloxone-access-laws

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2021/spike-drug-overdose-deaths-during-covid-19-pandemic-and-policy-options-move-forward#:~:text=Our%20estimates%20show%20that%20total,had%20never%20risen%20above%206%2C300.

https://nam.edu/programs/action-collaborative-on-countering-the-u-s-opioid-epidemic/treatment-webinar-series/

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/substance-abuse-chemical-dependency

https://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/understanding-naloxone/