Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 3:04 pm | Fair 66º


Diane Dimond: Drug Abuse Band-Aids May Increase Addictive Behavior

Every action has a reaction, and every decision has a consequence. Remember that lesson you learned early in life?

A funny thing happened on the way to introducing naloxone to the world of drug addicts. Experts in the field decided this antidote to nearly fatal drug overdoses was a modern-day miracle that would save lives and help steer drug abusers back from the brink. Once saved, they opined, the addict could then seek meaningful treatment.

With that endorsement, the push was on to try to get every ambulance and law enforcement officer to carry doses of the drug, widely known by the name Narcan, which is a brand name for a device that delivers naloxone.

Emergency medical technicians were given vials of naloxone to inject into overdosed addicts. Beat cops got nasal spray doses to administer while waiting for an ambulance. Both proved to be highly successful in bringing addicts back to consciousness.

Regulation of naloxone varies by state. In 2010, Quincy, Mass., became the first municipality to require its police officers to carry naloxone. Earlier this year, New Mexico became the first state to mandate that each and every law enforcement officer be equipped with naloxone.

And other states are broadening the public availability of the drug. Today it is not hard for addicts, their friends or their family members to get take-home doses — with or without a prescription — at doctors’ offices, pharmacies or community clinics.

Without a doubt, countless thousands have had their lives saved with a dose of naloxone. But then what? Reports from the front lines make clear that reviving an overdosed patient does not lead the patient to suddenly seek a sober lifestyle. Furthermore, the widespread availability of this antidote has made many addicts feel invincible.

“We gave Narcan to one particular addict 20 times in one month,” an EMT from a rural upstate New York town told me recently. “And the parents don’t care. They just keep calling us to revive their kid.”

Naloxone is amazing. It brings back to life addicts who look lifeless — their lips blue, their breathing nearly undetectable. It works by surrounding opioid receptors in the brain, spine and gut and blocking the effect of narcotics. What the nonchalant drug abuser may not know is that naloxone also causes severe withdrawal symptoms, which all but guarantees that a user will be left with a massive desire to quickly find another fix to stop the pain.

In Ohio, where the opioid epidemic led to more than 4,100 overdoses last year, one Canton emergency room physician has openly worried about the increasing use of naloxone.

“It’s such a frustrating problem,” Dr. Lisa Deranek said. “We’re saving lives, but it’s only temporary.”

Repeat overdose patients are common.

“Just throwing Narcan on this opioid fire is not going to fix it, (but) I’m afraid the government thinks it is,” Deranek said.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that in 2014, more than 7 million Americans were struggling with a drug abuse disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than a half-million people died of drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015. This is a complex problem to tackle.

Simply put, naloxone is not the panacea advocates hoped it would be. And for law enforcement officials, it highlights just one more societal problem heaped upon them to deal with.

“It’s just reviving somebody who’s going to go back and get high the same day,” said Sheriff Richard Jones of Butler County, Ohio. “It’s a war that we’re losing.”

The unsolved problem, of course, is this country’s inability to effectively treat drug addiction on a broad scale.

Interestingly, as the nation’s overdose problem has increased, so has the cost of naloxone. In 2014, the price was about $19 a vial. By late 2015, the price of a package of two prefilled auto-injectors had jumped to $900. By February 2016, that had skyrocketed to $4,500.

The prescription tracking company IMS Health concluded that naloxone sales nearly quadrupled in recent years, to $81.9 million in 2015 from $21.3 million in 2011.

Think what bona fide drug treatment programs could do with an infusion of $81 million. Rather than spend that much money to slap a temporary Band-Aid on a problem, wouldn’t it be smarter to divert at least some of those funds to programs that could help addicts wean themselves back to health? Seems like a no-brainer.

Yes, decisions have consequences. It’s pretty clear now that sinking tens of millions of dollars into a path that doesn’t reduce the number of addicts in America was more than just a bad idea. It was a mistake.

Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.