Medical Drug Detox Should Follow Naloxone Treatment For Opioid Overdoses

Medical Drug Detox Should Follow Naloxone Treatment For Opioid Overdoses

Recent statistics coming out of Massachusetts reveal a drop in drug overdose deaths for the first time in more than a decade, and some of the credit is being attributed to the drug naloxone, which can pull someone back from death's door who has overdosed on opioids. But saving someone from imminent death from drug overdose is only a band-aid if he or she isn't promptly enrolled in a medical drug detox program to help get them off the opioids they're addicted to.

The vast majority of opioid addicts return to the drug life no matter what happens to them, even dire life-threatening events like overdosing. And it makes no difference whether they're addicted to street drugs like heroin and morphine, or to opioid prescription painkillers like methadone, OxyContin, fentanyl and hydrocodone. The proper course of action, say drug addiction experts, is to capitalize on the life-threatening event while it's still fresh in the victim's mind, and get that person into a medical drug detox program right away. The drug naloxone, which can interrupt the effects of opioid overdose, has traditionally been used only by paramedics or emergency room medical personnel. For more than a decade, it hasn't been in the hands of non-professionals who are often on the scene of an overdose long before paramedics arrive - and when someone overdoses, time is of the essence.

That's why Massachusetts have recently begun a tightly-run pilot program that allowed non-medical personnel, including addicts' family members and even opioid addicts, to carry and use naloxone. Non-professionals must complete a training program in the drug's use, and government funding covers the cost of the naloxone kits and training. But whereas addicts carrying naloxone might be johnny-on-the-spot in saving a fellow addict's life, they can't be relied on to get their addict friend into the nearest medical drug detox clinic as soon as he or she gets back on their feet. That's why family members and other non-professionals with an interest in the addict's health are also approved to possess the drug. These are the kinds of people who will try to get their addicted friend or family member into medical drug detox and drug rehab, given any opportunity to do so. In Massachusetts, two people die every day on average due to opioid overdoses. In the past 15 years, the state has experienced yearly double-digit increases in overdose deaths, primarily due to a sharp rise in heroin abuse among younger people.

Naloxone interrupts an overdose, but soon after the victim awakens the symptoms of withdrawal set in. The drug lasts only an hour, while heroin and other opioids remains in the body for five hours or more. People are encouraged to call 911 immediately, even if naloxone is given. It must be followed by further treatment or the overdose can return. "Fatal opioid overdoses usually occur before emergency personnel get there, and often they are witnessed by other drug users," Alex Walley, the medical director for Massachusett's Opioid Overdose Prevention Program, told Boston news station WBUR. "And there's an opportunity to intervene because it takes time for a nonfatal overdose to become a fatal overdose." But Walley added that the near-death experience creates an opportunity to get someone further treatment.

Such treatment ideally would be medical drug detox to come off the opioid, followed by drug rehab for as many months as possible. The naloxone provided in Massachusetts is the brand Narcan, a nasal spray said to be easy to administer and harmless if taken by someone not overdosing. Nearly 700 friends and families of drug users have signed up to receive the training, and half of them say they've already seen overdoses. Although critics of the naloxone program say giving an overdose antidote might encourage drug abuse, state officials say there's been no organized opposition to the program. Whether or not someone approves of the wider distribution of naloxone, the fact remains that, on the plus side, it appears to be a some-time life-saver. But on the minus side, and in spite of its potential to actually save a life, naloxone is only a temporary, superficial fix if it isn't immediately followed up with medical drug detox and drug rehab. There's no guarantee that the next time the same dangerous overdose scenario takes place, someone will be standing by with a wonder-drug ready to save that life. And tens of thousands of Americans are victims of street opioid abuse and opioid prescription drug addiction, and every one of them is an overdose death just waiting to happen.

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