Every day, 105 people are dying in the United States due to an accidental overdose. This is a tragedy of epic proportions!
Despite over 40 years of failed drug policy and billions of dollars wasted on waging a war on drugs, overdose deaths continue to increase. One might argue that these punitive policies actually contributed to the rise in these tragic deaths, because of the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs or who are addicted to drugs. Overdose is now our country's leading cause of injury death for people 25 to 64, more than vehicular accidents.
Naloxone has been used in emergency rooms for decades. It is a safe, non-narcotic drug that works in minutes to reverse an opiate overdose. Mothers are demanding greater access to naloxone and are taking a lead position in raising awareness, training parents to administer it, encouraging physicians to prescribe it and pharmacies to carry it. Parents and family members feel that this lifesaving tool should be readily available to families as well as all first responders. Anyone who has a loved one who struggles with addictive illness, or who has a family member who has been prescribed narcotic pain medication, should have naloxone easily accessible. A half hour of training and anyone could feel comfortable having this medication and using it in an emergency.
If it wasn't for the stigma that is promoted by punitive drug policies, this certainly wouldn't be an issue. Why isn't naloxone made as available as an epi-pen or other common antidote? The answer is misguided moralistic judgment and ignorance about the true nature of addictive illness.
Now we are hearing about college students with no history of drug use dying of accidental overdose at fraternity parties, and talented, beloved stars like Philip Seymour Hoffman dying alone with a needle in his arm. Hopefully these senseless and tragic deaths will help to shatter the stigma, bring focus to the universality of the problem and the need to take action to save lives.
The most dangerous time for an accidental drug overdose is when a person with addictive illness is on a waiting list for treatment or when they are released from jail, prison or rehab, because of a lowered tolerance level to the opioids. With this knowledge, it is essential that families as well as police and firemen are equipped with naloxone. Furthermore, because it is so safe, we should be able to purchase it at a pharmacy without waiting for a doctor's prescription and proactively learn how to administer it.
As a mother of two sons who struggle with addictive illness, one of whom almost died of an accidental overdose, I feel that it is my right and responsibility to have naloxone readily available in my medicine cabinet, because every moment counts in saving a precious life.
Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, states that, "Making naloxone more widely available will save lives. When parents and spouses can quickly and securely purchase the antidote to an opiate overdose at their neighborhood pharmacy, everyone benefits."
My friend Denise Cullen, co-founder of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) said, "Putting naloxone in the hands of those who need it most as quickly as possible will be a positive, proactive step toward ending this epidemic. We lost our son to an overdose. No family should ever have to endure that preventable tragedy."
Mothers across the country are leading an effort to make naloxone available to all, because they are often the first to witness and respond to an overdose. Representatives of the Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign are working to end the violence, mass incarceration and overdose deaths that are a result of current punitive drug policies.
Julia Negron, a board member of A New PATH, feels strongly about the need to take action, because her life was saved by naloxone years ago, and she is a mother of a son whose life has been affected by addictive illness and incarceration. "Now is the time to acknowledge the lives lost to overdose, and in their name make naloxone available. There are too many roadblocks to recovery now; there's no rehab if you're dead," she said.
Too many young people have had their lives cut short unnecessarily, and families have had to deal with this unfathomable pain of loss. Mothers are often the first to witness and respond to an overdose, so they need to have the knowledge and tools to save a loved one's life. I have naloxone in my medicine cabinet now, because I can't stand by silently and hope. I need to be prepared.
Gretchen Burns Bergman is Co-Founder & Executive Director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and lead organizer of PATH's Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign. www.momsunited.net.