Thursday, June 1, 2023

Against opioid overdoses: the race in the US to spread the antidote

After an opioid overdose, this will “bring you back from the dead,” says Johnny Bailey to an attentive audience in Washington.

This social worker interferes with the use of Narcan, a drug that causes adverse drug reactions from opioids such as fentanyl, a narcotic 50 times more powerful than heroin.

This nasal spray, authorized in the United States since 2015, has become an essential weapon against the overdose crisis that has shaken the country.

The goal now is to make it available to everyone, to be able to manage it at any time, like fire extinguishers and defibrillators against cardiac arrest.

In early March, a dozen people regularly listen to Bailey’s presentation at the headquarters of HIPS, a non-profit organization that provides “harm reduction” services to sex workers and addicts.

The first thing is if he is stuck.

“You worry about gray, purple or blue lips or nails, sigh,” says Bailey, a 47-year-old recovering drug addict. “But first of all, if someone does not wake up.”

The next step is to call emergency services and immediately administer Narcan into one of the victim’s nostrils. If you do not regain consciousness after two to three minutes, the dose will be given again. And the person must be placed on his side, so that they do not choke on the vomit during the awakening.

Narcan sends molecules called naloxone to the brain, where they push opioid molecules from receptor sites to reverse the dose.

– “Save souls” –

Among the crowd training is Awa Sargent, 27, who lost a friend a month ago to opioid addiction.

Another of the participants is Starr Miller, 40, who one day suddenly found himself the victim of a hangover.

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“I was going to buy food and someone was lying, not breathing, at the station. It’s sad, it’s a common thing to see,” said Miller. “If someone had Narcan, we could have helped them sooner.”

In US cities, nearly 450 people will die of opioid overdoses in 2022, more than double the number of homicides. Almost all of the deaths were linked to fentanyl, which is sometimes added to cocaine or other illegal drugs without the user’s knowledge.

In Washington, the powers that be are doing everything they can to make Narcan known: giant billboards, toll free numbers, subway officers equipped with the dose. But first of all the associations distribute them through the streets. In the year alone, HIPS distributed more than 17,000 as many.

“We’ve trained many people who ended up saving lives,” said Bailey, from public library workers to religious congregations and many other members.

“I can tell you to use Narcan in two or three minutes,” but an hour’s worth of training “makes people understand more about it,” he said.

In particular, Bailey refers to the so-called “good Samaritan” law, which protects helpers from lawsuits if the antidote does not work or if they use drugs themselves.

– Narcan Dispensers –

Need: in the United States, between 2020 and 2021, opioid overdose-related deaths increased 17%, from 69,000 to 81,000.

Large doses of Narcan are already being prescribed or distributed by NGOs or even in pharmacies in responsible states.

The US drug regulatory agency (FDA) wants to expand the distribution of the antidote, allowing its sale without a prescription throughout the country, including in supermarkets or convenience stores, which the decision of experts unanimously approved in February considering the safe nature of the poison, harmless even if bound by error.

“We need to destigmatize and normalize naloxone,” especially among young people, Scott Hadland, a pediatric addiction specialist, pleaded before the vote.

Some fear that knowing is the antidote to stimulating drug use. But Dr. Leslie Walker-Harding dismissed this argument, comparing access to Narcan to that of a waterfall after a flood.

“People have been saying that guys should have more sex. This is not what people think. And this is not how people with disordered opioid use think,” he said.

Over-the-counter sales of Narcan allowed it to be distributed through vending machines. In Washington, HIPS hopes to establish three that would provide discrete and anonymous access to the antidote at any time of the day or night.


Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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