Naloxone Saves Lives
Updated: Aug 27
By now most of us know someone who has struggled with substance use. Unfortunately, most of us also know someone who has died as a result of drug use. Even if you don’t know anyone personally, odds are good that you have a friend or colleague who has lost someone to an overdose. The opioid crisis has been a big headline in the news since around 2016. What consistently does not get the attention it deserves is a life saving medication that can quite literally stop an opioid overdose in its tracks.
What is naloxone and how does it work?
Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Narcan is the brand name, naloxone is the generic name. The medication works by “knocking” the opioids out of opioid receptors in the brain. All opioids are central nervous system depressants. When taken in excess, they can slow or stop breathing. When naloxone is administered to someone experiencing an opioid induced overdose, it can reverse the effects. Naloxone only works for overdoses involving opioids. Examples of opioids include heroin, OxyContin, fentanyl, Vicodin and morphine. Although naloxone is available in many different forms, probably the easiest to administer is the Narcan nasal spray.
One of the greatest benefits of naloxone is that it is not harmful to someone if they have not taken opioids. Additionally, it is not addictive, and you don’t have to worry about giving too much.
Opioid use in Austin, Texas
Texas has been fortunate in that it has not been hit as badly as many other states with regards to opioid related overdoses. However, within Texas, Austin has one of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths. From October 2017- September 2018, Austin EMS confirmed 340 cases of opioid overdoes and administered Narcan in 98.82% of those cases. Of those 340, 15 people were pronounced dead by EMS. The demographic hit hardest are males in the 20-29 age group. In 2019, Austin EMS received reports of over 320 overdoses, with medics responding to an average of 1-2 overdose calls per day.
Earlier this month, in an incredibly cool collaboration, the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative (TONI) provided the Austin Police Department with enough naloxone to the equip the entire police force.
If first responders have naloxone, why would I need it?
During a life-threatening situation, minutes matter. Through legislation changes and grass roots efforts, getting access to naloxone and Narcan is easier than ever. There are a multitude of web-based trainings available, for free, that can show you how to administer all the various forms of naloxone. Having naloxone available is sort of like being trained in CPR—you hope you never actually need to use your training, but the training could save a life.
People in high-risk situations should absolutely have naloxone on hand; if you or someone you live with is an active user, if you work in a business where there may be drug use or if you have prescription opiates in your home. However, even if the above doesn’t apply to you, getting access to naloxone is so easy it probably makes sense to just add this to your first aid kit.
If you administer naloxone, you should still call 911, ASAP.
How to get naloxone in Austin
One of the simplest ways is just to go to a CVS or Walgreens. For people with insurance, the co-pay will usually be between $0-$100. Naloxone exchange by Script Health is an online naloxone specific pharmacy that operates in Texas. In most cases, the medication can be delivered directly to you.
Lives are worth saving
Some people believe that the distribution of naloxone is condoning drug use. However, saving a life should not be controversial. People who die from overdose will never have an opportunity to make positive changes. Deaths in this manner simply bring more pain and more trauma to friends, family and colleagues.
Update May 14, 2020: At the time this article was published, the Austin Police Department had been provided enough Narcan to equip the entire department, free of charge. Unfortunately, it was reported in April that the police department refused to accept the donation. Read the KVUE article here.
Update: August 27, 2020: Police in Santa Barbara, CA saved a man's life this week using Narcan. All police officers in Santa Barbara carry Narcan and they estimate six lives have been saved this year alone. Read more about how Santa Barbara is taking saving lives seriously.
Please visit some of the following pages to learn more about opioid overdose prevention and how you can support our community in saving lives.
About the Author: Kimberly May, LPC, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation.