Philadelphia — In the opioid epidemic, which cost over 63,000 lives in overdose deaths in 2017, there has been no weapon that first responders, addiction specialists and addicts ourselves have that’s been as successful in saving lives as naloxone.
What is naloxone? Naloxone is a pure opioid antagonist — a chemical that binds to and blocks a receptor stopping a physiological response — that can reverse the physical and mental effects of opioids. As an antagonist, it binds strongly to receptors, knocking off most agonists — chemicals that bind to and activate receptors causing a physiological response — like heroin, fentanyl and buprenorphine.
When naloxone removes the opioid agonists from the receptors, the respiratory and mental effects immediately stop, allowing the user to breathe and function somewhat normally.
With states authorizing pharmacies to dispense the vital medication, Philadelphia is acting as ground zero for opioid overdose reversals in Pennsylvania. In the Kensington section of Philadelphia, a survey done by the Philadelphia Department of Health found that 79 percent of people who responded to the survey were trained to use naloxone and that 70 percent carried it in the past three months, with 56 percent using naloxone to reverse overdoses they witnessed.
This is welcome news in a crisis that claims more and more lives every day. What more can be done to save lives in this crisis? Increasing naloxone distribution, increasing access to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, and distribution of fentanyl testing kits.
Anyone defending the lives and health of workers with addictions should push for progressive, scientifically sound drug addiction policy based on the principles of harm reduction.