Naxolone: second chance or enabler of addiction?

22 Feb

Last March, the West Virginia legislature passed a law that allows pharmacies to sell naxolone, an opioid overdose reversal medicine, without a prescription. The new policy is targeted to those who have a family member or close friend who they suspect is at risk of overdosing and would like to have the option to intervene in a medical emergency.

According to, “this is the one drug that can save addicts from certain death and offer them a chance to get professional help. The near-death experience often serves as a catalyst to get clean and sober.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, naxalone was used to reverse more than 10,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2010. However, the drug has no power to curb addiction and many critics fear that it will be used as a safety net which allows addicts to continue abusing opioids.

According to a special report on Narcon, the commercial name for naxolone, by the Marshall Project, there are not yet any statistics which would reveal how many addicts have been revived by Narcon multiple time. However, the effectiveness and costs of implementing the drug are constantly debated among those that respond to emergency calls and are responsible for implementing the opioid antagonist.

 Naxolone in EMS

The drug is even abused by medical professionals in situations where the opioid antagonist was administered unnecessarily. Ambulance driver Kelly Grayson shared his own experiences as an EMS paramedic in using and misusing the drug to treat the drug users.

“I was tired, overworked and ready to get back to bed. I resented having to be there. I was going to punish the man responsible — the junkie, as I saw it — for rudely interrupting my sleep. That’s what happens when you give medications because you can, rather than because you should. Aside from the injudicious use of antiarrhythmics, I can think of no other drug in our boxes more misused than good old naloxone.”

Grayson isn’t the only EMS provider disillusioned to the “lifesaving medication.” A firefighter from Weymouth, Mass. Was recently suspended for 90 days after posting his criticism of the drug on his Facebook page, saying: “Narcan is the worst drug ever created … I for one get no extra money for giving Narcan and these losers are out of the hospital and using again in hours. You use, you should lose!”

The firefighter’s penalty came after strong community backlash in response to implications that drug users deserved to die for their behaviors. However, the basic sentiment that naxolone promotes addiction is more and more commonly held among EMS responders.

The first responsibility of emergency responders who carry Narcon is to protect and serve the public, not to pass moral judgements that extend beyond their duties as public servants. However, repeat offenders could be considered a strain on the departments financial and personnel resources and the policy does nothing to curb addiction without a long term drug treatment program.

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