In Memphis and around the country, law enforcement and private citizens alike are fighting the opioid epidemic with the help of naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan.
Opioids severely slow down a person’s breathing. During an overdose, breathing can stop, potentially leading permanent brain damage or death. Those who abuse opioids overdose an average of nine times in their lives, and due to the wide availability and relative cheapness of heroin and other opioid drugs, death from overdose has become one of the leading causes of death in Tennessee (Tennessee Department of Health, 2016). Naloxone can rapidly reverse overdose by blocking opioid receptors and helping to return breathing to normal. It is extremely safe, since it only works if there are opioids present in a person’s system (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016). In 2016, the Memphis Fire Department administered some 1,700 doses of Narcan (WREG Memphis).
The establishment of “Good Samaritan” laws in Tennessee and other states has increased the availability of naloxone. These laws grant civil immunity to medical professionals who prescribe naloxone to anyone in a position to assist in preventing overdose, and to those who administer naloxone to someone they believe is overdosing. It also allows the Tennessee Department of Health to provide training courses on how to use naloxone (Tennessee Department of Health, 2014). In addition, Tennesseans can now get naloxone over the counter (without a prescription) from any pharmacist in Tennessee who has received proper training. Check with your local pharmacy to see if they have it available.
Tennessee Overdose Prevention works with the Department of Health to train Tennesseans on how to administer naloxone safely. While injectable naloxone is available only to first responders, trained private citizens can use an auto-injectable version called Evzio that is easily injected into the thigh. There is also a simple nasal spray version that makes it as easy as possible to administer the drug safely in an emergency situation. From 1996 to 2014, the CDC reported 26, 463 overdose reversals performed by laypeople trained in administering naloxone.
Naloxone is an extremely effective tool for counteracting overdose and can potentially give individuals a second, third, or fourth chance at life. However, it is not a long term solution to the opioid epidemic: some critics claim it encourages individuals to push the limits of their drug use since they know there is a safety net in naloxone. If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid dependency, please seek long term treatment options. You can locate treatment centers in the Memphis area by using our Treatment Locator.
Take the online Tennessee Department of Health naloxone training: https://www.tn.gov/health/article/naloxone-overdose-information-steps
Contact Tennessee Overdose Prevention for training: http://www.tnoverdoseprevention.org/overview