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Is Narcan Availability Normalizing Opioid Use?

Hailey MacDonald, Editor-in-Chief

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Since the beginning of the 1990’s, the United States has had an opioid epidemic. It is all over the news, online sources and even discussed in schools to raise awareness for children and teens who may be exposed to the harmful effects of opioids in the future. The opioid epidemic has been the deadliest drug crisis in the history of our country, and the number of opioid-related deaths has increased annually over the last fifteen years. Due to the increasing statistics, Narcan, a nasal spray that is known for reversing the side effects of an overdose, has become easily available to addicts and their families. It is now sold at local drugstores with a prescription, and many college campuses have even implemented this substance into their medical program. Is the easy effort to reverse the effects of a drug overdose doing nothing but normalizing drug use?

Opioids are narcotic pain medications. They are almost always taken in pill form by mouth as they are prescribed to medical patients after a surgery or procedure; however, they are often overprescribed. It is said that the overabundance of pills that patients receive lead to abuse, and occasionally they are smoked, snorted, or absorbed into the skin through a patch. Some opioid medications that are most commonly abused are codeine, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and more. However, because these are prescription medications and are more expensive and difficult to buy on the streets due to their low availability and high demand, many addicts choose a cheaper, more available option: heroin. Heroin, a drug originating from the poppy plant, contains the same opiates that are present in the expensive, hard to find prescription medications. Yet, it is extremely inexpensive and much easier to locate. There are a few things that are different, however: it is a powder, therefore it is either smoked, snorted or boiled down to a liquid and injected into veins. This is clearly a more dangerous alternative.

When a user consumes a medication containing opiates, their brain produces artificial endorphins, which work to create feelings of satisfaction and happiness. They bind to the pain receptors in the brain, stopping sensations of pain and discomfort and putting the body into a state of euphoria. When the user consumes opioids for a long period of time, their body and brain become accustomed to the artificial endorphins present, so their brain no longer produces the necessary amount. Therefore, when the drug isn’t present in their bodies, they experience withdrawal symptoms, consisting of sickness, anxiety and even depression.

When you abuse opioid medications, what you don’t realize is that you’re destroying your brain and taking away its natural capabilities. Addiction has no timeline: there is not a specific amount that it takes to become addicted, and it varies depending on body type, tolerance and dependence. People who are addicted to opiates and longing to recover are most often advised to attend a rehabilitation facility or a type of assisted living environment. This is because in order to combat the addiction, the user still needs a certain dose of the opiates in their brain in order for them to stay under control. As time goes on, doses are lessened so that the brain is able to recover and learn how to once again function normally. For some it can take just a few weeks, but for some it may take years.

On the other hand, many people struggling with opioid addictions choose to never receive help to reverse their actions. The more opiates a person puts into their body, the higher their tolerance becomes over time. For example, drug tolerance is very similar to alcohol tolerance. When those who have never consumed alcohol decide to drink for the first time, they are apt to become intoxicated faster as they do not need as much as someone who has a long history of drinking alcohol. With drugs, in this case opioids, people’s tolerances change and begin to become reliant on the stable amount that they receive; therefore, in order for them to reach the euphoric state, they are forced to consume more and more of the drug over time. However, this is a dangerous consequence: the overabundance in their system can cause an overdose.

Every day, there are 91 deaths in the United States stemming from opioid use. In fact, drug overdoses kill more Americans under age 50 than any other causes of death, including cancer, suicide, and motor vehicle accidents. Between 2000-2015, there were about half a million deaths relating to opiate use or abuse. This is a sad reality for many Americans. Addiction affects everyone: former students, parents of current students, brothers, sisters and maybe even students within our school. Go to any public park, field or outdoor facility, and take a look at the ground that holds you up. Odds are, somewhere on the ground, you’re apt to see a used needle. Turn on the television and watch a news channel. Odds are, somewhere within that segment, drug use or overdose information is bound to be mentioned at least once. Mothers overdosing with their infant children in the backseat, former college student athletes overdosing after being prescribed a narcotic after they broke their leg. So, what is done to help combat the epidemic?

On November 18, 2015, Narcan was FDA approved. Narcan is a nasal spray containing naloxone hydrochloride, which is a drug that is able to reverse the effects of a drug overdose. This spray is available at a variety of different drug stores, i.e. Walgreens, in 46 states across the nation, and it is able to be dispensed at local clinics free of charge. Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts is the first United States university to have narcan available on campus. It is located at 50 different places throughout the area, and it is easily available if needed. Most law enforcement officers also carry narcan with them when on duty due to the high rate of heroin overdoses, but this varies depending on area. In West Springfield, our town police officers are required to carry narcan in their vehicles at all times.

It’s an unfathomable idea to have such a miracle working  medication that can reverse the effects of a fatal mistake, but does this normalize the occurrences of this mistake? Heroin users know that they can push themselves so far into a euphoric state that even if they overdose and become unconscious, they are able to be revived and given a second chance at life because of narcan. That’s like saying that it’s okay to drive really fast on the highway because even if you do get into a car accident, you have an airbag to save your life.

It shouldn’t work that way.

Narcan shouldn’t just be another regular thing to carry on your person at all times, like Tylenol or even Dayquil. Narcan should be available for extreme scenarios, and should be handled by medical personnels when they feel the need to use it. Having the average person carry this overdose-reversing drug makes it seem like drug use is the norm, and it normalizes the use of heroin throughout our country. Obviously the first priority as a nation is to keep our citizens safe, but we should also strive to put this epidemic to an end if we want to see significant changes in our society. Drug use is inevitable, but normalizing it by making overdose remedies available to the public makes it seem like it is okay.

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Is Narcan Availability Normalizing Opioid Use?