As I stood over the prone body of a man, his pale face relaxed as if in sleep, I wondered what his last thoughts had been.
Had he thought of his family? Perhaps a girlfriend or wife? Or had his only thought been for the heroin seeping into his vein, taking him away from all such concerns and killing him so swiftly that the needle was still embedded in his cold, lifeless arm?
More important, what if the medics had arrived in time to administer the drug that could have saved his life? Of course it is impossible to say what he could have done if given a second chance, but there is new hope for other overdose victims because of an old drug in a new package.
The old drug is naloxone. Commonly known as Narcan, it is an opioid antagonist developed half a century ago to reverse the effects of opiates such as heroin. Its use was restricted to medical professionals only, but that restriction ended Thursday when the Food and Drug Administration approved Evzio, an easy-to-use device that automatically injects a precise dose of naloxone.
For those who battle an opiate addiction, Evzio is a game changer. Instead of waiting helplessly for medics to arrive while a friend or loved one overdoses, caregivers now have an opportunity to save a life.
The FDA decision was recapped in an AP article (TNT 4/3) which also provided a staggering statistic: opioid overdoses claim the lives of 16,000 people every year. This figure has recently increased – surpassing motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death – mostly due to the presence of prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin.
To envision such a vast number, imagine a near-packed Tacoma Dome filled with people; now envision each one of them nodding off into unconsciousness, their breathing slowing until it stops. And all for lack of immediate medical care.
Cops in Quincy, a suburb of Boston, have been carrying naloxone since 2010, reversing the effects of 170 overdoses. The state of New York announced it will soon provide naloxone to every law enforcement officer, a positive development that will likely be the leading edge of a movement towards this new/old drug regimen. (Take note Pierce County police agencies.)
But not everyone is a fan. The governor of Maine has refused to allow Evzio to be prescribed, alleging that it would give users a false sense of security. His is not the first passive aggressive voice to suggest drug users are dying at their own hands. Though there is a simple logic in that, such a callous claim disregards our inherent frailty, our imperfect humanity.
When we choose to harm others, it becomes a matter for courts to render judgment. But when we seek to harm ourselves, either intentionally or through destructive behavior, it is another matter entirely. Rather than render judgment, like the Maine governor, we should seek to help anyone in such vulnerable circumstances.
Certainly none of us are perfect. At some point in our lives, we could all use a second chance. I only wish I’d had the means to provide for the man who died in front of me with a needle stuck in his arm.