Interview: How to Fight Heroin Overdoses
Naloxone Reverses Overdose, Gives People a Second Chance
An epidemic of opioid-related overdoses has swept across United States and is intensifying. In 2015, more than 33,000 people died of overdose involving opioids, a 15 percent increase from the year before. A key to stopping these needless deaths is naloxone, a drug that is safe, cheap to make, and reverses overdoses. Senior Researcher Megan McLemore talks with Amy Braunschweiger about this life-saving drug and what we need to do to make sure anyone can affordably buy it.
How did this opioid epidemic start?
The factors contributing to it are numerous and complex. There was intense marketing of painkillers, like Oxycontin and Vicodin, by pharmaceutical companies, and weak regulation of prescriptions written by doctors and pain management clinics. Also, there are increasing rates of drug use in areas of the country beset by economic distress.
A substantial number of people dependent on opioids get their start through prescription drugs. That said, they often weren’t prescribed the drugs – kids used their parents’ pain medication, people gave it to friends, they were not necessarily the patient. Once they develop a dependence, people often move on to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to find. Heroin is often cut with other drugs, including super strong opioids like fentanyl. This means people have little information on what they’re injecting. You’re just not sure what effect it will have on you. And it’s killing people.
Tell me about Naloxone. How does it work?
It’s a miracle drug. It’s completely safe – almost like a saline solution. If I injected it into my arm right now, it would not affect me.
When you overdose on opioids, breathing stops or becomes severely limited. Naloxone goes to the part of the brain that controls respiratory arrest and gets people breathing again.