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article imageNaloxone reverses a drug overdose, but the addiction remains

By Karen Graham     Nov 4, 2015 in Health
Death from heroin or opioid overdose has become one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. according to the CDC. While heroin addiction has grown in the past decade, prescription-opioid addiction has soared, contributing to the increase in heroin use.
Heroin and prescription drug addiction has become so rampant that naloxone, commonly called Narcan, is distributed to anyone likely to come into contact with a possible drug overdose victim, including police, paramedics and users' families, reports CTV News.
But while Narcan can reverse heroin and opioid overdoses, it doesn't touch the real problem, addiction. In only a very few places will drug abusers brought back to the world of the living after overdosing be put into long-term care to address their addiction.
However, more and more policymakers are becoming aware that increasing numbers of overdose victims are being brought back from the brink more than once, and sometimes repeatedly, thanks to naloxone's availability. Health care officials now have to look more closely at the root cause of addiction and how to treat it successfully.
Naloxone, also called Narcan, is a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. It can be administered intravenously, injected into the muscle, or used like a nasal spray. As an opioid-antagonist, it can cause symptoms of opioid withdrawal, including agitation, nausea, vomiting, a fast heart rate and sweating.
Use of Narcan to reverse an overdose — Personal experience
Heroin users who have been revived with naloxone say the experience is horrible. Joseph, who asked that his last name not be used, has overdosed four or five times, and been revived with Narcan each time. "It's horrible," he told National Public Radio. "The worst withdrawals you ever felt in your life. You feel like you want your high back, almost. You just wanna die, you know. It's that bad."
But Joseph says Heroin's lure is so strong that even the threat of death from an overdose, or even the nasty side-effects from being given Narcan, isn't strong enough to beat back addiction. He says he usually has been released from the hospital about three hours after being revived.
"They let you kinda sleep it off," he says. "They just discharge you and they say you need to get help — you need to do something." Joseph's comment has a lot of truth to it because many ER physicians say that if a patient is breathing on their own and can walk, they are discharged. Many patients don't want to stay, and just want to get out of there.
But for those who do agree to further counselling, the wait in an ER can sometimes be three or four hours if they are lucky. Another problem is the availability of treatment options because access to treatment is limited by availability and insurance. In many hospitals, when a patient is discharged, they are given a "Narcan Kit" and instructed in how to use it. The Narcan Kit has been shown to reduce rates of death among opioid users.
File photo: The shocking death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from a suspected drugs ...
File photo: The shocking death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from a suspected drugs overdose has spotlighted a growing epidemic of heroin use across the United States, officials warn.
Fadel Senna, AFP/File
CDC says we are in the middle of an epidemic
In July this year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden, in an interview with Business Insider said the current drug epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid use in the U.S. is being driven by a "one-two punch."
First, more and more Americans are using opiate painkillers like Vicodin or OxyContin. Research shows that one of the reasons that abusing opiates can make people more susceptible to future heroin abuse is because the drugs act similarly in the brain. Second, heroin has become more widely available, and it is cheap. Dr. Frieden estimates that heroin is about one-fifth the cost of prescription opioids.
With 44,000 drug-related deaths in this country every year, and about 22,000 being attributed to prescription opioids, something must be done to stop the spiral. "More than two million Americans misuse prescription drugs. The prescription drug epidemic is also contributing to an increase in heroin use," noted Corrine Peek-Asa, PhD, MPH, professor and associate dean for research, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, in Iowa City.
In our world today, it is so easy to get a health care provider to prescribe potent opioids for pain. The FDA has even gone so far as to allow their use in children. This begs the question of why these medications are so freely prescribed. The resulting addiction also raises another important question, and that is what are we going to do about all the new addicts?
We need doctors to be held accountable for prescribing these drugs, and we need more addiction programs that are available to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. This may not be the best answer, but there is one out there, and we just have to find one.
More about drug overdoses, heroin and opioids, prescription opioids, Narcan, multiple overdoses
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