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Doctors: Naloxone Works But Won't Solve Opioid Problem

Doctors: Naloxone Works But Won't Solve Opioid Problem Promo Image

Walgreens will follow fellow drugstore CVS in making naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, available over the counter in more than 8,000 stores nationwide. The move has sparked controversy for a number of reasons.

Naloxone, also known by the brand name "Narcan," has saved 93.5 percent of lives in the event of an opioid overdose, according to research by Boston's Brigham and Women's hospital, CNN reports. However, a person who received naloxone had about a one in 10 chance of not surviving another year, and about 35 percent of people who had died within a year after receiving naloxone died from an opioid overdose.

The deaths aren't related to some side effect of the drug so much as they reflect its inability to treat the underlying problem.

According to Dr. Phillip Coffin, substance use research director for the San Francisco Department of Health, those who receive naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose have a 25 percent chance of overdosing again within the year, Forbes reports.

Coffin compared naloxone to seat belts, in that they can prevent you from dying in a car crash but they can't prevent the crash itself.

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"Naloxone is a rescue method for individuals who generally are already not only opiate abusers, but they are using to a degree which puts their life on the line," Dr. Daniel Bachmann, an Emergency Medicine physician at Ohio State University medical center, told Men's Health. "To truly combat the underlying problem, changes need to be made on the front end to decrease the number of opiate abusers that form, and on the middle aspect to provide resources for reform of abusers who have already become addicted. Naloxone may save some lives, but it does not solve the problem."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there were 64,000 cases of opioid overdoses in 2016, CNN reports. One in 30 of those overdoses were fatal.

The rise in cases is steep. Between 2005 and 2014, there was a 99.4 percent increase in opioid-related visits to the emergency room. Dr. Scott Weiner, lead author of the study on post-naloxone deaths and an emergency physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said the crisis is indicative that change is needed in how emergency rooms handle patients.

"If I'm taking care of a patient in the ED, I want to be able to tell them what the real chances of dying are if they continue using," said Weiner. "I can look them in the eye and say, 'You have a 1 in 10 chance of dying in a year if we don't get you treated,' and I think that's really powerful."

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Weiner believes getting patients involved in treatment as soon as possible is critical. He said some emergency rooms are beginning to take steps in that direction, either by bringing in treatment specialists or by having treatment facilities nearby.

Sources: CNN, Men's Health, Forbes / Featured Image: Intropin/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta via Premier of Alberta/Flickr, Jeff Anderson/Flickr

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