Editorial: Is naloxone the right prescription?
When you are falling off a cliff, you grab for the nearest rope.
You don’t ask if it’s the right rope. You don’t ask if it’s the rope that will hold your weight, or if it will last longer than that rope over there. This is the rope that will work right now. You worry about the next step next.
Naloxone feels like that rope.
This week, Pennsylvania made the medication that can stop overdoses by blocking the effects of opioids available at 80 locations across the state. You don’t have to pay for it. You don’t need a prescription. It is available for the asking.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration credits the drug with bringing 20,000 Pennsylvanians back from the edge of overdose. There were 5,456 Pennsylvanians who couldn’t be saved from that fate, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In Allegheny County, it was 737.
Naloxone is clearly the difference between life and death for many people in Pennsylvania, one of the states hit hardest by the nationwide opioid epidemic.
But are we relying on it too much?
There are people who criticize the naloxone distribution and availability. There are valid arguments about whether it is enabling addiction.
That debate aside, there is another question. Is the success rate of naloxone making it a popular program because it feels like something making progress as we are mired in a fight where there seems to be little other good news?
It’s hard to fight a battle that starts with completely legal medication that has a valid medical use. There are programs aimed at changing how much and how often opioids are prescribed, but there are still people with back injuries, knee surgeries and cancer diagnoses across the state who have a legitimate reason to take oxycodone or hydrocodone.
It would be wonderful to just take everyone who has an addiction and get them into a program tomorrow to fix it. The problem is that there just aren’t enough beds available for those programs.
It would be fantastic if education were the silver bullet to fix addiction, but it just isn’t.
Likewise, there isn’t a medication that can be easily administered to just make someone not be addicted to opioids or anything else. And meanwhile, addiction seems to morph to avoid all weapons used against it. Using prescription medication turns into heroin use, which is now becoming fentanyl abuse. And the FDA just gave the green light to an even stronger drug.
So what we are left with is naloxone, an emergency response to a dire, life-threatening situation. It is the rope that we keep throwing to people as they fall off the cliff, when what we need is a fence to keep everyone away from the edge.