The medication naloxone has been a vital tool for healthcare professionals in saving the lives of drug overdose victims. Its ability to immediately counteract the depression of the respiratory and central nervous systems caused by an opiate overdose can dramatically increase a victim’s chance of survival. Given its fast-acting affects and the fact that naloxone is considered to be non-addictive and safe to use, some within the medical community have called for the routine use of naloxone in the reversal of an opiate overdose.
Naloxone alone only works if one already has opioids in his or her system. Thus, it doesn’t work as a stand-alone treatment method. However, it can be used in conjunction with a partial opioid agonist such as buprenorphine. Because buprenorphine acts to activate opioid receptors in the brain, there is a risk of abuse when used during drug treatment. As an opioid antagonist, naloxone blocks some of the stimulatory affects that buprenorphine produces.
Although the majority of doctors support the use of naloxone to prevent overdoses, it is crucial to improve patient understanding of the risks of opiate use and the risks of overdose before Naloxone is prescribed to a patient. Many doctors do not feel comfortable talking to patients about their opioid overdose risk in fear of offending them. Additionally, some doctors are very concern, about the potential for friends or family members administering naloxone improperly.
The Potential Problems Associated with Naloxone’s Routine Use
In light of growing concern about the nation’s heroin and painkiller epidemic, 34 states have expanded laws to make it easier for physicians to prescribe naloxone bystanders and family members to administer the drug to an individual who is overdosing. However many physicians have remaining concerns about prescribing naloxone to non-medical personnel. A closer look at some of the risks presented by naloxone and questions regarding the data supporting its routine use may raise concerns about its risks and benefits.
- False “safety net” concerns: Some doctors believe that by having naloxone within reach, some individuals might see it as some sort of a “safety net” and underestimate the dangerous risks of opiate use, or even take the use to the next level.
- Safety issues: Because naloxone can produce acute opioid withdrawal, it can also cause side effects such as hypertension, tachycardia, vomiting, and delirium. If administered at home as part of a course of drug treatment, family members may be ill-prepared to protect themselves and users from the harm these effects may cause.
Naloxone as a Life Saving Tool
The lifesaving benefits that Naloxone has brought to so many, is truly undeniable. Although some opiate users might see the drug as an ever present life preserver, there has been no actual evidence it has cause addicts to overdose more often.
The conclusion is that a comprehensive policy for prevention of opiate dependency should be immediately put in place, improving access to effective drug treatments and expansion in mental health care. If the appropriate prevention is put in place, there will be no need for overdose reversal drugs such as Naloxone.