Public health experts are telling American parents to make sure they have a device used to prevent fentanyl overdoses in their home – as the US’ deadly overdose crisis reaches a breaking point.
The highly deadly fentanyl was responsible for around 70 percent of the record 107,622 drug overdose deaths that struck the US in 2021. The equivalent of five grains of salt worth of the synthetic opioid is enough to cause death.
Its cheap manufacturing costs and potency have made it the go-to cutting agent for cartels and drug dealers in the US looking to stretch their supply. It’s now found in everything from cocaine to molly and street benzodiazepines like Xanax.
To combat the spiraling epidemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to approve Narcan – an overdose antidote – for over-the-counter sale in the US.
With the drug not readily available at pharmacies around the US, addiction experts are telling parents to keep it on hand to protect their children from the deadly drug.
Narcan may soon become available over-the-counter in the US after recent backing by a leading FDA panel (file photo)
The number of US teens that died of a drug overdose surged from 2019 to 2021. Over the two year period, 2,231 overdose deaths occurred, with 1,871 caused by fentanyl. During the first month of the study, July 2019, 31 teen overdoses were recorded. This figure peaked at 87 deaths in May 2021, and 51 were recorded during December 2021, the study’s final month
Teen deaths from overdosing on fentanyl (grey line) have tripled since the Covid pandemic began (dotted line between 2019 and 2020). Scientists say this may be linked to the synthetic opioid being mixed with other drugs such as cocaine and heroin
Dr Tildabeth Doscher, an addiction medicine specialist at the University at Buffalo, told DailyMail.com: ‘Yes, [Naxalone] should be a standard first-aid kit addition.
‘There are no substances getting into the illicit drug supply that render Narcan relatively useless.’
Pat Aussem, the associate vice president of the Partnership to End Addiction which works to curtail teen drug use told DailyMail.com: ‘Partnership to End Addiction endorses the widespread distribution of naloxone including its availability in first aid kits.
‘It is a recognized safety measure when administered to adults and children to reverse overdoses and save lives regardless of the legality of the opioids consumed.’
The warning comes as drug overdose deaths among teenagers is surging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed late last year that they had doubled from 2019 to 2021.
Over 83 percent of the overdose deaths the agency recorded in the study were linked to fentanyl use.
Previous studies found that teen deaths caused by fentanyl overdoses had tripled since the start of the Covid pandemic.
The US suffered 884 teen fentanyl deaths in 2021, a University of California, Los Angeles study found.
This is a 30 percent increase from the 680 recorded in 2020, and a 250 percent jump from the 253 logged in 2019.
Narcan, also known as naloxone, is an opioid antagonist. It is used by inserting the nozzle of the drug into the nose and spraying it.
The drug recently received backing from a leading FDA panel by a unanimous vote to be moved from a prescription drug to over-the-counter.
It is expected for the agency to finalize the move in the coming weeks, as Commissioner Dr Robert Califf spoke in favor of the change.
This would mean that anyone could purchase the drug off the shelf at local pharmacies.
Dr Tildabeth Doscher, from the University of Buffalo, recommends parents keep Narcan on hand in the home just in case
The cost of a single naloxone rescue kit ranges from approximately $22-$60 for intranasal kits.
When inhaled, the medicine is absorbed through mucous membranes in the nose, rapidly entering the bloodstream and traveling to the brain.
Once there, the medicine competes with opioids attaching themselves to receptors in the brain. It attaches to the brain’s receptors, replacing the opioid.
This blunts the effects of opiates on the brain, stopping an overdose from progressing.
Once the medicine is administered, its effects only last for about 90 minutes at most. Experts say a person treated with Narcan should still receive professional medical attention.
Naloxone is a generally safe medication even when inadvertently given to individuals who are mistakenly believed to be overdosing.
It is simple to use, making it so even a person without formal medical training can use it.
Ms Aussem said: ‘Equipping lay people, including those who use opioids, with information on risk factors, signs of an overdose and how to intervene is protective while not promoting riskier use.
‘Further, the use of naloxone causes unpleasant opioid withdrawal symptoms, which is an effective deterrent.’
There are some health experts who argue, meanwhile, that furnishing nearly all households with Narcan would actually drive up opioid use and increase risky behaviors by reducing the perceived negative consequences of opioid use.
A 2018 report published in the Journal of Law & Economics argued: ‘Naloxone access may unintentionally increase opioid abuse through two channels: (1) saving the lives of active drug users, who continue abusing opioids, and (2) reducing the risk per use, thereby making riskier opioid use more appealing. By increasing the number of opioid users who need to fund their drug purchases, Naloxone laws may also increase theft.’
But health experts and officials such as the Indiana State Department of Health have long refuted that.
In a 2017 study by psychiatrists in New York, it was revealed that training heroin users in naloxone administration actually decreased their drug use at 1 and 3 months after receiving overdose education and naloxone training.
Dr Doscher said: ‘Some feel that this encourages opioid use, which is entirely unfounded and there is zero evidence to support that stance.’
The federal government is contending with a larger-than-ever epidemic of opioid misuse, spurred in part by the Covid-era lockdowns that left most people, including people in addiction recovery, without the necessary lifelines.
The tragic wave of deaths in recent years have also been driven largely by the ubiquity of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
Drug cartels and dealers are increasingly cutting their products with the deadly drug.
An infinitesimal amount of it, hardly enough to cover half of the surface of a penny, can prove deadly.
Fentanyl killed a record 75,000 Americans in 2021, the equivalent of 1,500 lives lost every week.
The above graph shows the cumulative annual figure for the number of drug overdose deaths reported in the US by month. It also shows that they are continuing to trend upwards
Deaths caused by fentanyl in the US surged in the 2010s. At the start of the decade, 2,666 Americans died of a fentanyl overdose. This figure shot up to 19,413 by 2016. Covid made the situation worse, with a record 72,484 deaths recorded in 2021
The government’s response to the epidemic has become more forceful in recent years.
To counter steep increases in overdoses in recent years, Congress has passed a spate of measures to give agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to send financial assistance to areas of the country ravaged by opioids.
And while both parties will agree that Narcan is an invaluable tool that should be available over the counter, federal government officials have not gone so far as to recommend that people keep it close at hand at all times.
In fact, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is aiming to rescind pandemic-era rules that allowed people with opioid use disorder to get their buprenorphine, a medication-assisted treatment for OUD, via telehealth.
Per the rule in consideration at the DEA and HHS, patients using buprenorphine would be able to get a 30-day supply of the medication but would need to see a prescriber in person to get a refill.
Dr Doscher said: ‘Nothing from the federal government surprises me.’
She added about the proposal from the DEA is ‘ludicrous.’
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