Unless you have been avoiding the news and social media for the last three to five years, you are aware of the massive heroin epidemic that has plagued our country.
The story has become all too familiar across every state and city in our great land: the over-prescribing of opiate pain pills; the abuse by young and old alike; massive addictions; abundance of cheaper heroin from Mexico; heroin addicts all around; death.
If you have missed these stories, sights and horrific sounds, one statistic summarizes it all: In 2015, there were more heroin deaths than gun deaths in the United States.
What you may not have heard about, depending on the state you live in, is that science has produced an extremely effective antidote to heroin overdose — Narcan (or Naloxone). Administered in a variety of manners, including via a quick nasal spray, it has proven to immediately reverse the deadly effects of a heroin overdose in a matter of seconds.
Yet, as with many medicines in our country, the use, distribution and marketing of Narcan is riddled with controversy. The “pro-Narcan” camp argues that if we can save heroin addicts from death with an easy to find (yet expensive) medicine, it is our duty as fellow human beings to save them. The “anti-Narcan” camp argues that providing addicts with Narcan merely enables their continued use as they now have a life raft to bail them out of their deadly behavior.
As with many controversial issues in our society, BOTH sides in this debate are correct. We need to save lives where possible and Narcan can encourage continued use.
States across the country have attempted to solve this dilemma via a variety of regulations — some states require a prescription for Narcan, while others allow the drug to be obtained free and without a doctor.
With both sides having valid concerns, we should look to a very successful program courts across the country have used for decades to help with alcoholism — specifically, drunk driving. In many states, such as my home state of California, part of the sentence for most individuals convicted of a DUI is that they attend a certain amount of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. These individuals are forced to get attendance slips signed at these meetings, and present the information regularly to the courts. These types of programs ensure the individuals are at least exposed to AA, which has helped millions of people stop drinking since its inception in the 1930s.
So why don’t we borrow this logic and require those seeking Narcan to regularly attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings? NA has similarly helped millions of addicts beat the disease. Requiring Narcan recipients to attend one NA meeting a week will at least ensure they are learning about the disease. And it will provide them a real opportunity to get sober, while also supplying them with a lifesaving tool.
So to the proponents and opponents of widespread Narcan distribution, can’t we agree on this tried and true solution that meets both of your goals? We save lives AND provide the tools for recovery. Doing one without the other kills.
Marc Treitler and his family are the founders and creators of the family addiction education website www.potatoallergy.com and the authors and illustrators of My Dad Is an Alcoholic, What About Me?: A Pre-teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes.