Overdose Reversal Drug Narcan Saves Lives Across Massachusetts

Filed in Local News by on January 2, 2010 0 Comments

As of July 2009, the Department of Public Health reports that 320 opiate overdoses in Massachusetts have been reversed by the administration of overdose reversal drug Narcan.  Due to the proven success of the drug in the Boston area since it first became available in 2007, the Boston Public Health Commission is continuing their mission to “meet addicts where they are at” with the S.K.O.O.P. program, or “Skills and Knowledge on Overdose Prevention.” The BPHC’s AHOPE Program (Addicts Health Opportunity Prevention Education) travels throughout the city by van providing the overdose reversal medicine Naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan, to opiate users, families and friends of opiate users, and health professionals. With drug overdoses doubling in Massachusetts between 1995 and 2005, public health officials recognize the need to provide overdose prevention and education to drug users. In addition to Narcan, the AHOPE Program provides free needle exchange, referrals to drug treatment centers with priority admission to methadone clinics, and on-site HIV testing.

Naloxone, most commonly referred to as Narcan, has the ability to overpower the opiate receptors in the brain that heroin and other opiates such as Oxycontin lock onto.  By spraying a vial of the mist up the nose, Narcan interrupts the opiates’ bond to brain receptors, and allows the user to resume breathing. While an overdose can return if enough of the drug has been consumed, Narcan provides a period of safety time before the paramedics arrive at the scene. In addition to the drug users who have a supply of Narcan, many health professionals and family members of drug users keep a vial of the drug on hand as a safety measure. In order to receive an emergency vial of Narcan, drug users must complete a drug education program which encourages them to enter rehabilitation and treatment. They are then trained to recognize a possible overdose, as well as what to do when one is occurring.

The distribution of Narcan in Boston has caused significant controversy in recent years because some view the availability of the drug as condoning opiate use. Also, if user has taken heroin, there is the possibility that it is laced with another foreign drug or chemical that could interact with the Narcan. While the concerns of detractors are valuable, the point of Narcan’s distribution is to provide enough time for trained medical professionals to reach the victim. With the increasing visibility of the S.K.O.O.P. Program, we can hope to save even more lives throughout the Boston area.

Narcan is available throughout the Greater Boston area. Families and friends of opiate users can also contact the AHOPE Program to learn more about harm reduction and overdose prevention. For more information on Narcan, visit the Boston Public Health Commission’s website at www.bphc.org.

A contributing writer to the Directory of Boston Blog, Megan Johnson is originally from Connecticut, but has lived in Boston since age 18. She frequent writes for MenuPages Boston, Reinventing Beauty Magazine, Butterfly Diary, and SweetTalk on the Spot. Click the link to visit her website, Down and Out in Beacon Hill.

Sources: Boston Globe, Boston Public Health Commission, Taunton Daily Gazette, Boston Herald, The Patriot Ledger, Cambridge Cares about AIDS, Harm Reduction Coalition

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