WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – As the epidemic of heroin and opiate abuse continues to grow, the drug naloxone, which can revive overdose patients, is becoming more widely available.
In Trumbull County alone, the county health department passed out nearly 100 kits containing doses of the drug in 2015.
According to health care professionals and police in the tri-county area, there have been about 12 cases of Narcan (naloxone) successfully used to revive an overdose patient. But local ambulance companies have been administering Narcan for decades, using it as part of what’s called a “coma cocktail” when medics encounter an unconscious or unresponsive patient.
At Life Trans ambulance service Vice President Randy Pugh said his ambulance service handled over 142 overdose cases. And now, local police departments are also carrying Narcan on patrol.
Just recently, the drug has become readily available at some local drug stores and at the Trumbull County Health Department where the number of kits they are handing out is steadily rising. Through project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone) 96 kits were distributed in 2015. So far this year, they have given out 53.
“That’s why we started it because Trumbull County has such a huge issue. That was our first and foremost reason for doing it. Second thought was we’re hoping they get that “Ah Ha” moment, that second chance where they go and get treatment,” said Kathy Parrilla, with the Trumbull County Health Department.
But is there possibly a dark side to this expanded availability? Paramedics say the price for Narcan has more than doubled and there are concerns that while the drug is saving lives, it may also be providing a safety net for addicts by allowing them to survive their overdose and get high again another day.
Dawn Wrask with Rural Metro Ambulance explains that overdosing on heroin or other opiates retards the respiratory system and ultimately death can result. Narcan blocks receptors in the brain that is telling the respiratory system to shut down.
The drug is saving lives, but some worry that using Narcan merely provides a safety net – in effect giving an addict the chance to live to get high another day.
“It is just a theory. There is no scientific study on that, but it could be that they think that they are going to be pulled out of it with Narcan,” Pugh said.
Pugh said his crews have been on a number of calls involving repeat overdose patients who were revived with Narcan, and police in Warren have administered the drug to the same person on three different occasions this year. There is also a new phenomenon called a “Dawn Party” where addicts attend a party where they know Narcan will be there.
While paramedics stress revived patients need immediate medical care and possible additional doses of Narcan, they worry that’s not likely to happen at a party.
“That is why it is scary to have a party. Somebody gives them Narcan and the person wakes up and uses again,” said Wrask said.
The price of Narcan has more than doubled since it has become more widely available, giving way to rumors of potential shortages, according to Pugh.
“It would really put us in a problem because if we couldn’t get it and other people are getting it over the counter, who is going to take care of this problem,” Pugh said.
In spite of the potential negatives, no one is suggesting the use of Narcan should be stopped. Mahoning County Sheriff Gerry Greene said the drug is dealing with a very real problem that is impacting families in the Mahoning Valley.
“These are people’s kids. These are people’s parents that are dying from this. It is the ones you are able to save and make this worthwhile,” Greene said.
Thinking one less fatal overdose is one less tragedy.