There’s a life-saving drug, Naloxone, but it’s hard to get your hands on.
“This sh*t ain’t no joke. Ain’t nothing to be playing with,” says a black man as he proceeds to shoot up on camera. “Most people nod out, but due to the fact that I was in the service, I don’t nod out. Because I’ve been in life and death situations, I don’t nod out. Can’t afford to.”
That’s the opening scene in an episode of “Journalista,” Playboy.com’s docu-series covering drug and sex policy.
This one is about Naloxone, the life-saving opioid overdose drug.
Host and producer Yoonj Kim takes us to the Homeless Health Care center located on Skid Row, which provides a range of services including syringe exchange, overdose kits, medical care, mental health care and case management.
Program coordinator Chloe Blalock explains that at this center for harm reduction they offer new needles, sterile water, a clean piece of cotton, something to cook up your drugs in, alcohol swabs and a tourniquet. There’s an enormous red sharps disposal container where they collected a million used syringes last year alone.
So here are the stats: In 2015, 44,000 people in the U.S. died of overdoses and every year that number is increasing.
“We give out Naloxone to anybody who comes in,” says Blalock. “When you overdose on opiates your brain’s receptors are all occupied by the opiates that you’ve taken, and your brain stops communicating with your body and your breathing stops. Narcan or Naloxone goes to those receptors and pushes the opiates off for about an hour so suddenly your brain is like, ‘start breathing’.”
Naloxone is available at the Homeless Healthcare Care center as well as CVS pharmacies and Ralph’s supermarket pharmacies in California. However, in other states you need to have a doctor prescribe it for you.
“People don’t like helping drug users so it’s not a widely known thing that overdose is easily preventable. We have this miraculous medication that can save people, that never hurts anybody, that’s easy to use, that’s cheap to manufacture, and we should just give it out like candy. If the price of keeping all of those tens of thousands of people alive is making the drug user more comfortable with their drug use, then I think it’s worth it, ” Blalock explains.
So what’s the catch? The price. It’s been sky-rocketing.
Whitney Englander, Government Relations Manager of the Harm Reduction Coalition explains that the price has doubled from $20 a dose to $40 a dose in the last year. True, the demand has increased as most fire departments, police departments and first-responders are all being equipped with the medication. However, Englander explains, it’s also all part of bigger trend of off-patent drugs being driven up in price.
“There are so many programs out there that are having to take dramatic measures because of the price increase,” Englander says. ”We want to see as many access points as possible. It can make a huge impact on lowering a community’s overdose rate.”
I know that many 12 steppers can’t get on board the harm reduction bandwagon as it’s not the classic model of holy abstinence. Over the many years I was trying to get sober nobody, not one addiction professional, told me about harm reduction. Granted, it wasn’t a well-known movement back then, but even today it’s not something that most rehabs offer their “returning” clients.
But maybe it should be.
If somebody can’t, or isn’t willing to, get sober right now, maybe we need to try to keep them alive until they do.
When I think of harm reduction, my evil addict brain sees it as a way to continue using with lessened consequences. And what junkie wouldn’t want that, right? It’s a complicated issue.
For me, it was the very real possibility of imminent death that finally got me off the needle.
The idea of learning to “manage” my IV cocaine use or my 24-7 meth smoking, although gruesomely appealing, seems pretty far-fetched. I’d like to think that even without the onset of back to back seizures, that the loss of my friends, family and quality of life might have been enough to get me to my “moment of clarity.” But who knows?
At any rate, I strongly believe Naloxone should be available to the public without a prescription at a fair price, if not for free.
You can watch this episode and others here, and stay tuned for an upcoming mini-series from Playboy.com called “The Truth Behind Drugs,” which Yoonj Kim tells me will “give unfiltered information about illegal substances for people to rethink the war on drugs and drug policies.”
It will also feature “images of actual narcotics” for people who like drug porn, want to be triggered or just have a hankering to relive the good old days.
This article originally appeared on PsychologyToday.com.
Photo credit: Getty Images/136009688