How many people do you know who have died from an overdose of drugs?
I can think of more than 10 just in our community. Georgia loses more than 1,000 people each year to drug overdoses. The lives lost in Georgia include young, old, black, white, male, and female members of society.
Addiction does not discriminate.
I also know people who are alive today because of a drug called Naloxone (brand name Narcan).
Narcan saves lives from opioid overdose by reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone works by physically pushing the opiate off the receptor in the brain and attaching itself there instead. Within seconds, the person to whom Narcan has been administered is thrown into withdrawal. While opioid withdrawal is extremely unpleasant, it is not, by itself, lethal.
Opiates, such as heroin, codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), morphine and fentanyl (Duragesic) are extremely addictive. Because of the drastic reduction in price, heroin is finding its way into west Georgia in waves.
As I mentioned in a previous column, Georgia recently passed a law that limits prosecution of people calling emergency services to help save someone suffering from an overdose. This legal protection also extends to people who administer Narcan to someone experiencing a drug overdose.
Additionally, the law increases access to Narcan. Physicians may prescribe Narcan to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist someone at risk of opioid overdose, and to first responders, harm reduction organizations, and pain management clinics.
Pharmacists are permitted to dispense Narcan under that prescription. The physician, pharmacist, and person administering Narcan are immune from civil, criminal, and professional liability as long as they act in good faith and in compliance with the applicable standard of care.
The most common argument against naloxone is that it encourages reckless drug use. Some folks think that if people know they can be saved by a drug like Narcan, they are more likely to engage in excessive drug use.
However, I would bet that if you asked opiate users and the people who provide services for opiate users, the vast majority would say that addicted people are not thinking about whether or not their city has Narcan available before they shoot, smoke, or ingest an opiate.
I have not been addicted to opiates, but I am familiar with addiction. The deeper a person falls into addiction, the less they are able to care about anything other than feeding it. In other words, the idea that Narcan availability will increase drug use rests on the assumption that the drug abuser is acting rationally when he or she is not. With or without Narcan, people will continue to overdose.
Many of us know someone with an opioid addiction. Some of us are very close to those suffering from addiction. While treatment and recovery are the primary goals, people who are addicted must decide on their own if and when they want to get better.
In the meantime, it may be a good decision to at least investigate the use of Narcan in some situations.
You may be in a position to save a life one day.
(Jason Swindle is a Carrollton-based criminal defense attorney who also practices in Coweta County.)