A fascinating new study by the Boston Medical Center suggests that the medical industry should change its approach to naloxone. Instead of just keeping it stocked behind the counter, the authors argue, pharmacists should proactively offer it to people at risk of abusing opioids. While naloxone is already available without prescription in nearly all states, stigma currently prevents at-risk people, or their loved ones, from requesting it, and pharmacists are reluctant to bring up the issue. Instead, the study recommends, pharmacists should implement a policy of routinely offering naloxone and providing information about it to at-risk groups. This could include those with a regular prescription for opioid painkillers, as well as people requesting syringes.
What is naloxone?
Naloxone is an opioid blocker which can be used to reverse the effects of an overdose, including in cases where it would otherwise be fatal. Since, in the majority of cases naloxone is administered by friends or family, there is no way for sure to know how many lives are saved each year by the drug. However, it is certainly in the thousands. Overdoses now kill more Americans each year that guns or car crashes, so it is imperative that every at-risk person has access to a safe and highly effective remedy.
The healthcare industry is increasingly coming to understand the importance of naloxone as a tool for harm reduction. This is part of a general change in the way we understand addiction. Instead of viewing addiction as a moral failing, we now know that it is better understood as a type of disease. Recognizing this means exploring a wider range of treatment options, and pursuing pragmatic strategies for harm reduction. The right treatment plan for an individual struggling with substance abuse depends on a complex interplay of factors, including age, environment, and genetics. Beating our nation’s drug crisis means focusing rigorously on what works.