A New Drug That Can Prevent Heroin Overdoses
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, has been extremely beneficial in the efforts to prevent heroin overdose deaths and other fentanyl-related overdoses. However, Narcan has a major downside: a severe opioid withdrawal happens immediately after recovery.
The Start of Something New
In the state of New Jersey, health commissioner Shereef Elnahal signed an executive directive that will allow paramedics to carry buprenorphine, a medication that treats opioid addiction, to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms after someone has been revived with naloxone. Buprenorphine is considered the gold standard medication for opioid addiction. This is an attempt to help the severe opioid withdrawal symptoms patients feel after the initial dose of Narcan, which is an intense flu-like feeling. “We had a lot of paramedics telling us that someone would be in an ambulance, knocked out, and then receive naloxone, and they would run out of the ambulance,” said Elnahal.
More than 3,000 people died in New Jersey last year due to a drug overdose. This is the first attempt in the nation to implement buprenorphine treatment for patients who overdose and are revived with Narcan. According to Andrew Kolodny, a psychiatrist at Brandeis University, the move is a “fantastic idea.”
The Long-Term Goals with Buprenorphine
With this new standard of care going into effect, buprenorphine, which also goes by the name of suboxone, will be hard for anyone to obtain. To even get this drug, paramedics must have permission from ER doctors who oversee the patient and then, once administered, the patient’s insurance is billed for the use of buprenorphine.
What about patients who don’t have insurance or their insurance? What happens then? Elnahal said “the goal is to refer all the buprenorphine claims for uninsured patients to hospitals’ charity-care programs, which provide treatment for free or at a reduced cost.” This new treatment option can make a difference in a person’s life if they have a heroin overdose. This can kickstart someone’s life into sobriety, getting the help they need from a drug detox center, and help guide them towards better choices
The only issue with this long-term treatment for heroine addiction is access to buprenorphine. It is hard to find a doctor who has permission to use this drug to help prevent heroin overdose deaths and many doctors still don’t truly understand how this drug works. However, Elnahal said that the state is actively training more doctors to administer this drug and the circumstances under which they are to prescribe it.
- The Atlantic – A Radical Way to Stop Heroin Overdoses