Our Opinion: New naloxone study suggests link is missing


An argument for the use of the overdose treatment drug naloxone is that it requires those rescued to receive long-term treatment for their addiction. A study released Monday indicates that this link is not being adequately made, at least not as yet.

The study conducted by the Brigham Comprehensive Opioid Response and Education Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston tracked what happened to more than 12,000 people who received the overdose drug, commonly known by its brand name Narcan, over a two-year period. Virtually all were successfully revived, but roughly 1 in 10 died within a year, almost invariably because their underlying substance-abuse disorder was not adequately addressed.

Medical professionals say that being administered the fast-acting naloxone is a physically punishing process, not one that an overdose victim will be eager to go through again. The study reveals that those who are saved through the drug cannot automatically assume that they will never die from an overdose, as some opponents of the drug's use claimed would be the case. More than half of those who died after being treated with the drug died not just within a year but within a month.

The state has been aggressive in assuring that hospitals, EMTs and police departments have ample supplies of naloxone and are trained in its use. Laypeople are able to receive training in administering the drug. Those who receive the drug are to be referred to local treatment centers to address their addiction. However, the study's lead author, Dr. Scott G. Weiner, told The Boston Globe that the study indicates that this is not taking place sufficiently enough to make a dent in addiction numbers. "Naloxone is just a Band-Aid," asserted Dr. Weiner.

A Band-Aid is inexpensive, while the follow-up treatment for addicts is expensive. By referring those administered naloxone for treatment many addicts are brought out of the shadows, but treatment centers often have waiting lists and an inadequate number of beds for comprehensive treatment. If not treated quickly, many will slip back into former habits and end up dying from an overdose anyway.

This is one reason why so many Berkshire and Massachusetts health officials were greatly disappointed by President Trump's announcement that his administration would seriously take on opioid abuse. The announcement came with no guarantee of federal funding, reducing it to little more than a photo op.

Naloxone gives people a second chance and its use should be encouraged. It is not, however, a solution to the opioid epidemic, and finding that solution requires a concerted federal effort to go with a state and local one. That is yet to happen.



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