Heroin Overdoses: Revival, Death, and the Scary In-Between
Naloxone, while a godsend, doesn’t always save lives
In every local paper, stories of naloxone successes are probably appearing weekly. I know they are in mine. And they’re heart-warming, with titles like “Naloxone Saves Teen.” I can’t imagine how many thankful families there are. But the other side of the coin, and what few articles say in the success stories, is that there’s a downside. Naloxone doesn’t always work in time to stop some hellish damage. And when it doesn’t and the person lives, the results can be devastating.
First, here’s some information on how naloxone is not the be-all and end-all. My county Prosecutor’s Office commented on the death of a 50-year-old man who, despite both EMTs and police (working together, I assume) trying to revive him with naloxone. “This man’s death serves as a reminder that naloxone is not a cure-all for heroin addiction and is by no means a 100 percent fail-safe alternative to reversing the effects of a heroin overdose,” a spokesperson said.
In my area naloxone was approved for use by officials this summer, and it’s been effective 24 of 25 times. But that one death shows that it will not work all the time. It’s a tool, and unfortunately, it may make users think that they’re safe using heroin.
This is from a CT government publication on how Narcan works after an overdose:
- Inadequate breathing results in insufficient oxygen in the blood, then the heart, then the brain; this can take minutes to hours, allowing time to intervene
- Naloxone reverses an opioid overdose by competing for the same receptor sites in the brain for 30 –90 minutes
- With opioid overdose, living/dying is all about breathing.
So it’s apparent that you need to get to the person within a certain time if Naloxone is to work.
But even then, as numerous other stories attest, when EMTs do reach a person on time, the person may survive but be forever changed, in a way that they surely never imagined. Take Alex Morris, a New Jerseyan who overdosed in 2001. He lapsed into a coma, went blind, couldn’t speak or swallow, and had no function in his extremities. He was in the hospital for over a year.
Today his mother, formerly an executive with Citibank, cares for him fulltime. He regained his ability to speak, but cannot get out of bed, bathe or get dressed by himself. He has cognitive function although he can hardly add. “But the promise of his young life – he excelled at math and loved to play guitar – appears dashed,” the article says.
There are other people like Alex out there, and there will probably be more in the future. Nora Volkow was interviewed for the article, and she agrees with that assessment. Not many people talk about the possible impairments.
Finally, the article gave the statistics relating to heroin deaths from 2011 to 2012: a 200 percent increase in Louisiana, a 60 percent increase in Ohio, and a 300% increase in Maine.
Used to be that I would find one or two articles on heroin arrests in my local paper. Now it’s not uncommon to find five. Today’s paper had one article that has stayed with me–an entire family one or two counties south of me was arrested for selling herion—parents and two kids in their 20’s. How does life go so wrong for some people?