How Naloxone Saves Lives

How Naloxone Saves Lives

An estimated 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, which is more than the total number of people with heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. Therefore, it is not surprising that the US Centers for Disease Control has observed a 10-fold increase in the volume of opioids used medically in the past 20 years. While opioid painkillers are primarily used to address the problem of chronic pain, a pathogenic element exists in the US drug culture: the country only comprises less than 5% of the world’s total population, but it uses most of the world’s opiate supply. This fact shows that there is chronic overuse and over-prescription of these drugs, thereby making preventative measures like naloxone invaluable.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

A recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reveals that, in 2011, around 17,000 fatal drug overdoses occurred in the US, which included prescription opioid overdoses. If you wonder how many of those deaths involved opioids, then know that, in 2008, 14,800 overdoses occurred on opioids, which provides some idea on the impact of these drugs. Many overdoses are caused by recreational abuse, but not all of them—risks for opioid overdose exist outside of substance abuse, as well.

Many factors play a role in drug overdose, like age, gender, concurrent use of benzodiazepines or alcohol, use of other sedatives, sleep apnea, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney and liver problems and others. In fact, even patients who have taken opioids for years can be at risk for opioid overdose, such as when their medical status changes.

The “Cure” for Opioid Overdose

The good news is that many deaths can be easily prevented, even after overdose occurs, through naloxone use. Many medical professionals, family members and friends of opioid users know of a user’s risk of overdose, so they keep a dosage of naloxone around. Sometimes addicts themselves even keep naloxone on hand, because they know it might save their own lives or the lives of their friends who also abuse opiates.

A patient’s substance abuse history has no relevance to emergency naloxone treatment, meaning anyone who overdoses on a drugs (addicted or not addicted) can benefit from naloxone in an overdose emergency. The drug works via a specifically determined molecular mechanism, so it does not endanger life.

Some doctors do not understand how some drugs work—such as lithium, some general anesthetics and others—but medical scientists know exactly how naloxone works. It is considered the best standard of care for overdose patients, because it works as an opioid antagonist. In other words, opiates bind to opioid receptors in the brain, which causes the effects of the drug. Naloxone competes for the same binding sites, known as mu-opioid receptors, which means it kicks away some of the opiates to prevent them from binding to brain receptors. As a result, opioid overdose is prevented.

Naloxone will stop the effects of a drug, which may save the life of the patient, but it may also upset her. The person in danger may even get angry or frustrated, because she will suddenly feel sober again; due to the effects of the drug, she may even experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Anger is, of course, a much better alternative to death, but some drug addicts will respond unkindly to their rescuers because of the pain they may instantly experience upon waking.

It is also important to mention that naloxone does not work with the same efficiency for all opiates. For example, the reversal of buprenorphine’s effects is less effective with naloxone, because buprenorphine has a higher binding affinity for the opioid receptors than naloxone does. This fact means naloxone is not a cure-all for every overdose, so avoid drug abuse in the first place to guarantee that you do not overdose.

Why Is Naloxone Used so Infrequently?

Naloxone has been around for a while; it was developed in the 60s, so it has been available for a long time. In hospital settings, this drug is administered to patients intravenously, but it can also be administered via a nose spray or an injection.

However, naloxone use is not as widespread as it should be, because it is difficult to obtain. Ideally, everybody would be able to obtain naloxone over the counter and without a prescription, but such is not yet the case. While a number of states employ legislation or are in the process of doing so to allow for easy access to this drug, most states are not.

Naloxone has a low risk associated with its use, and it does not create a high, so it should be available to everybody. The potential for overdose is very real for drug abusers and medical users alike, so the drug is a good way to lower the number of deaths associated with drugs. While its lifesaving ability should not belittle the importance of drug abuse prevention in the first place, its potential cannot be ignored.

Do You Suffer from Drug Abuse and Dependence?

Whether you are addicted to opiates, stimulants or any other drug, we are here to help. Naloxone may save the lives of those who overdose, but preventing overdose in the first place is the best way to help. Suffering from addiction is a difficult and unfruitful path to walk, especially in the long run, so our admissions coordinators can help you get back on track. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline now for the support and advice you need to rediscover independence and healthiness.