July 25, 2016
In just a matter of seconds, a heroin addict can slip into an eternal coma as their slumber brains forget to perform one of humans’ most basic functions: breathing.
Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, a prescription medication that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose, according to Stop Overdose Illinois.
Naloxone is connected to a Polish immigrant, Jack Fishman, who was trying to create a medication to combat constipation in people who used opioids. In 1961, Fishman and his lab partner patented the medication; unbeknownst to them the opioid antagonist would go on to save thousands of lives on the verge of death over the next several decades.
The Huffington Post article, “Who Invented Naloxone,” chronicled the perils of Fishman as his own life would become affected at the turn of the millennium, the genesis of the spiraling opioid epidemic.
In 2004, Fishman’s stepson, Jonathan Stampler, died of a heroin overdose in Florida. A year later, Stampler’s girlfriend also died from an opioid overdose.
As naloxone began to gain momentum as the antidote for opioid overdoses, Fishman eventually lost his patent, growing disconnected from the drug that was now a prized possession of pharmaceutical companies in the US, according to the article.
“It never occurred to us that naloxone could save Jonathan’s life,” said Stampler’s mother, Joy, in the article. “Doctors weren’t writing take-home prescriptions for it. It was hard for Jack to get naloxone and he invented it!”
Today, Fishman’s family continue to venerate his legacy as the founder of naloxone. Joy Stampler is now the spokeswoman for his foundation, and along with their children, they advocate for easier accessibility to the drug for family members who have a loved one struggling with addiction.
Stampler’s advocacy brings to the forefront the new obstacles the medicine has to leap through: the expansion of its availability and use to eligible people.
How Does Narcan (Naloxone) Work?
Upon arrival at the scene, a 20-something-year old woman’s body dangles from the hands of a hysterical husband, brother or father. Her toddler looks on with wide empathetic eyes brimming with tears. Paramedics rush to the aid of the family, but her body has already gone limp as her blush skin begins to pale from the loss of oxygen. Not long after they arrive, paramedics discover it’s too late—she’s never waking up.
This scenario occurs every day across the country with 28,000 deaths being related to opioid overdoses in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If caught in time, naloxone can undo severe the damage done by an opioid overdose through an immediate process.
According to NaloxoneInfo, Narcan can be administered through a syringe or as a nasal spray; its use varies from state to state. Once it’s injected into the overdosing patient, it attaches to the same parts of the brain that receive heroin and other opioids. Naloxone then blocks the opioid receptors for 30 to 90 minutes, which reverses or undoes the effects of the opioids.
“It’s able to, just like morphine, bind, but it doesn’t unlock,” said Tom Ferraro, a biomedical sciences professor, in the Newsworks podcast, “The overdose ‘antidote’: how Narcan works.”
“So it attaches, but it’s not able to trigger the cascade of effects inside the cell,” Ferraro said.
Eventually, the medicine “outcompetes” the opioids by blocking its entrance into the brain’s receptors.
For witnesses, the drug is a medical resurrection for dying addicts.
“They were dead, they weren’t breathing, and they administered it, and [the person overdosing] sat straight up, and asked where they were,” said Camden County police officer Maureen Baney in the podcast.
Narcan’s Recent Appearance in Headlines
With the government still implementing new legislation to treat the growing trend of opioid abuse, it was announced on July 20, 2016, that President Barack Obama plans to sign a bill that’s aimed at giving states the chance to apply for grant-assisted treatment for people addicted to heroin or prescription meds.
The bill will hopefully allow states with sheer treatment implementation to improve its availability of naloxone and other preventative methods.
In 2014, the CDC released statistics about naloxone and its preventative benefits. In the most recent survey, it was reported that 136 organizations were providing naloxone to 150,000 laypeople, resulting in more than 26,000 reversals, according to the Huffington Post.
In four years, the number of organizations providing naloxone increased by 183 percent; the number of laypeople trained in the naloxone kit increased by 187 percent; the number of overdose reversals rose by 160 percent.
Also, a Pennsylvania judge has ordered drug dealers caught with heroin to pay per brick for the substance to supply Narcan to their overdose victims, according to CNN. In response to the increase of heroin overdoses in Pennsylvania, Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani decided to make drug dealers pay for their contribution to the county’s fatality rate.
“I think it’s something people involved in the drug trade need to realize,” said Sumner Parker in the CNN article, “Pennsylvania judge orders drug dealers to pay for Narcan.”
“It may take hold and be another consequence they’ll have to deal with for putting poison on the streets,” Parker said.
And drug dealers throughout Allegheny County are discovering just how heavy a burden their sly street methods has placed on the community.
Andy Buxton was ordered to pay $2,650 to three EMS and ambulatory agencies in Mon Valley, Pa., after being sentenced to seven to 14 years for multiple counts.
Pending Danger for Heroin Addicts
Even with all of the legal intervention to provide Narcan to an overwhelming amount of overdosing patients each year, the evolution of opioids and heroin continues to push the back-and-forth pendulum on the discussion about naloxone.
The new phenomenon of fentanyl-laced heroin is increasing the potency of the drug, causing an insurmountable amount of deaths in areas condensed with heroin addicts.
The new opiate is said to be 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, causing heroin addicts to gravitate to the fatal drug.
According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, there have been at least 700 deaths related to fentanyl-laced heroin since 2013.
The underlying issue of the new variation of heroin is beginning to affect the longevity of Narcan and its effects altogether.
According to the Newsworks podcast, a potent dose of heroin could outlast the effects of Narcan and cause the victim to slip back into an overdose after the naloxone wears off.
“Naloxone only lasts for about 45 minutes, so for patients who use heroin or fentanyl, the drug itself can last longer than the naloxone so that they could have a recurrence of depressed mental status,” said physician and toxicologist Matthew Salzman in the article.
As medical professionals and the government decide how to maintain the benefits of naloxone with more potent forms of heroin, treatment is the best option for those suffering from a chronic opioid abuse.
If you, or a loved one, is struggling with a heroin addiction, call our specialists today to learn more about Ocean Breeze Recovery. Our specialists are available 24-7 at (844) 318-0070 to assist anyone with an addiction. Start your journey toward sobriety before you let a naloxone syringe wake you out of the devastation of drug abuse.