Naloxone: A miracle medication for the opioid epidemic

Ian Sims

As the opioid epidemic worsens, drug overdose has become the leading cause of death of Americans under 50. It is now more important than ever for communities to be aware of tools that deter overdose. Naloxone, sold under brand name Narcan, accomplishes just that.

Naloxone is a medication that immediately reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by binding to opioid receptors. It saves lives by restoring breathing and consciousness. Knowledge of naloxone should be ubiquitous: Friends of people who use opioids should inform them of this miraculous tool.

It is naïve to assume that one will never have any encounter with opioid abuse or addiction. After receiving an initial 10-day opioid prescription from a doctor, one in five people will use opioids long term, leading to addiction.

Many deaths of the opioid epidemic can be attributed to fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. By means of illegal production abroad, an abundance of fentanyl has reached the streets of the United States.

Because fentanyl is cheaper than other street drugs, drug dealers commonly lace heroin with fentanyl leading to a massive increase in fatal overdoses. However, heroin is not the only drug that traces of fentanyl has been found in. Death has also resulted from cocaine cut with fentanyl, counterfeit Xanax and fake Hydrocodone.

While tracking exact figures is difficult, there has been a rise of fentanyl exposure in Central Texas in recent years. Twenty-four fentanyl exposures were reported to the Texas Poison Center Network in 2001; this figure jumped to 69 by 2016. The law states that overdoses must be reported to the Department of State Health Services; however, there is no penalty for noncompliance, leading to an underreporting of fentanyl overdoses. Hospitals and the health department in Travis County do not keep track of fentanyl-related deaths.

In response to the increase of fentanyl in Texas, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1462 in 2015 making naloxone available without a prescription at pharmacies throughout Texas. Every Walgreens and CVS location in the state of Texas now carries naloxone.

Community efforts have proven vital in making this medication available to the public for no cost. Austin Harm Reduction Coalition provides naloxone to residents in Austin. Additionally, the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative is a resource all Texans can turn to.

In 2016, UT’S College of Pharmacy launched the campus campaign “Operation Naloxone” to raise awareness of the medication. The program has held many successful events to train students on how to administer the drug. Naloxone can be injected into the vein and muscle tissue. It can also be administered through the nose by nasal spray. There is even an auto-injectable version, Evzio, that provides the user with voice guidance.

As UT upholds its reputation as a party school, there is no harm in being educated about harm prevention tools. Because partygoers might be hesitant to call Emergency Medical Services due to fear of legal repercussions, ensuring that one person at a party has naloxone in their possession is a smart action to take. Even if no one is planning to use opioids, fentanyl has been cut in other street drugs before, and I predict a rise in this in the future.

Increased awareness of naloxone will curtail the number of lives the opioid epidemic claims in Texas and beyond.

Ian Sims is an international relations and global studies sophomore from Houston.