Narcan: Is it the miracle drug some claim it is?


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCCU) — Naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan, is a medicine that can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioid or heroin within seconds.

But can it also lead to death?

One medical expert said it isn't necessarily the "miracle drug" so many people make it out to be.

Narcan, is in the hands of most paramedics and law enforcement officers in east central Illinois. It's used to reverse an overdose and it's been labeled by many as a miracle drug.

"I think it's appropriate to call Narcan a miracle, life-saving drug because by reversing someone's overdose today, they don't die," said Carle Regional EMS Medical Director Dr. Michael Smith.

But some are raising concern, saying Narcan can actually do more harm than good.

"Rather than really saving somebody's life, you're just delaying their death," said Dr. Nelson with Rutgers University Medical School.

Research shows about 10 percent of the people who receive Narcan will have a fatal opioid overdose within a year.

"You can't enter treatment if you're dead. But at the same time, giving Naloxone without giving effective treatment, isn't really effective therapy. All you're doing is delaying their next overdose," said Dr. Nelson.

That's where Narcan falls short, according to Dr. Nelson., because it does nothing to rehabilitate those receive it.

"On this big public scale when we're doing this without adequate research into what the adverse effects are, it is to some extent a public health experiment," said Dr. Nelson.

Furthermore, taking the medicine puts an opioid user in withdrawal, which may lead them to take more drugs. Once the Narcan wears off, the person has a double dose in their system. Research shows that most people given Narcan weren't really overdosing to begin with.

"What is the right dose of heroin? There really is no right dose, many of them were just high. They want to be where they were. Naloxone can save lives, and it's hard to argue that, but without putting people into treatment centers after that, or doing something for them to break the cycle of addiction and abuse, we haven't really done very much for them," Dr. Nelson said.

Dr. Smith said while it's imperative that a person who receives Narcan is seen by a medical professional, it's better to save a life now than to stand by and do nothing.

"Narcan is absolutely good for the populous because it means that people who have critical overdoses don't die today," said Dr. Smith. "So do those people still have the potential to hurt themselves in the future? Yes, they do. But the drug means they don't die today."

While most agree, there need to be more treatment options, the issue of Narcan is far from black and white.

"But when we claimed that we saved 10,000 lives when in reality we saved two or three lives, but we've given it 10, 000 times, I'm glad we saved those two or three lives, but the billing is as if this is a miracle drug that is saving people left and right isn't really accurate. I think it gives people a false sense of security," said Dr. Nelson.

The opioid epidemic is being called the deadliest drug crisis in American History. President Trump highlighted the nation's opioid epidemic in his State of the Union Address, after declaring it an emergency last year. It remains unclear what steps his administration will take to address the crisis that's killing tens of thousands of Americans each year.

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