Recently I have seen a lot of articles and debate about Narcan, the drug that when administered, saves a person from an overdose on opiates. In the midst of a serious heroin epidemic, it is important to have the information necessary to make judgements and decisions based on fact, rather than heated emotions. Chances are, most of you reading this have either been directly affected, or know someone who has been affected by this devastating crisis. One opinion gaining widespread popularity is that the use of Narcan is enabling addicts to continue to use because they know the life-saving drug will be available. Some have even said addicts knowingly overdose at “Narcan Parties”, only to be saved and continue to inject heroin. Another objection to Narcan I have seen spread on social media amounts to something of the effect of, “Life-saving drugs should be administered on people who actually value their lives.” I am taking on the daunting task of putting my passion about the subject aside to address these concerns. My goal is for every person to walk away from this article able to make more well-informed thoughts, judgements, and decisions.
When injected, Narcan immediately acts to kick heroin or other opiates off the receptors in the brain that cause a person to feel euphoric. This restores breathing and heartbeat. This also means a lot of other physiological responses happen to a person who is addicted to heroin, many of them extremely unpleasant. Imagine being woken from a deadening slumber (subjectively very peaceful to the person using) to projectile vomiting, profuse sweating, extreme pain and diarrhea. The person is thrown into the most violent withdrawals imaginable because Narcan does its job very effectively. A heroin addict seeks day after day to avoid these withdrawal symptoms. In attempt to avoid the intense pain of withdrawal, an addict will steal, lie, cheat and do any number of other acts that violate their personal values and integrity to get the next “fix”. Given this fact, it is hard to imagine an addict saying “It’s ok if I overdose because I am carrying Narcan,” let alone actively seeking to overdose knowing they will experience some horrifying symptoms. If there are “Narcan Parties”, I imagine the walls would be covered in vomit and everyone would be carrying a spare pair of underwear.
The definition of enabling is "to give (someone or something) the authority or means to do something”. Given this definition, is administering Narcan, enabling a person to continue to use? Technically, yes. The addict would theoretically then be alive to continue to make poor decisions. What is the alternative? I wonder if a person would look at their loved one who is suffering an overdose and order a paramedic not to save their life because doing so would “enable them to continue using”. If so, what is the intended outcome for refusing to enable a person? It would not seem to be their wellness, because the end result in this scenario is death.
Addiction is cunning and baffling, even to addicts themselves. It is almost incomprehensible to those who have not experienced addiction, and those who have to live with someone who is struggling with it. I empathize with every person who has a friend, lover, husband, wife, mother, father, child, or other family member who is facing addiction. Its effects are a ripple in our society, that has extended to the media, our laws and the government. It challenges our personal philosophies, moralities, and empathy. Many of us feel helpless in this epidemic, and naturally emotions get in the way of our decisions and outcomes. That said, we can only know what we know. What we know is there is a crisis. We know there are many broken hearts everyday over another person who has been taken from our lives much too soon. I ask that every person who has an opinion on this matter get all the information they can about this very serious matter.
Another thing we know, is that there is hope. Addicts can and do recover. My wish for the future is that the attitude of helplessness and despair is replaced by stories of victory over heroin and renewed joy for life. Shaming and blaming does little to help any problem. While guilt can be a healthy motivator for change, psychologists agree that shame stunts growth, and promotes feelings of hopelessness. 12 step meetings work. Rehabilitation facilities work. Recovery houses work. Cognitive-based programs work. Refuge Recovery based on Buddhist principles work. Christianity works. Native American teachings (Wellbriety) work. Let’s share these stories. Look for them online by me in the days to come.