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Behind the Patient: Street Portraits
by Michael Morse

Narcan can save lives but it’s no answer

Making Narcan readily available to the public has the potential to give drug users the temptation to push their high to the limit and then return from the brink of death

By Michael Morse

The guy who gave me my most recent haircut is dead. He died in his sleep, a peaceful death no doubt, floating away on a narcotic high, no regrets, no fear, just oblivion. Kind of like how he lived; on an opiate high, no regrets, no fear, and simply oblivious that at 32 there’s a lot more to life than Ecstasy on the weekends, Mollies every now and then, Oxycontin pills when they were available, and heroin when they were not.

He used to tell me that he was in recovery because he quit drinking. The drugs were just a pastime, he would say, laughing when I told him he was still an addict. He was larger than life, full of street wisdom and wit, took pride in the fact that he could get anything you, or he, wanted.

If only he had wanted to live.

I used to think as he did, and believed that drugs and alcohol would set me free, and help me to enjoy life to the fullest, and take my mind and body places that I could never go, or even imagine. It was only when I left all of that behind that I began to truly live, and feel, and experience life in its natural state, with all of the joy, triumph, pain, misery and satisfaction that comes with it.

Drugs and alcohol kept me prisoner, trapped in a cycle of highs and lows; a giant roadblock keeping me from experiencing life to the fullest. If only the 45 people who have died so far in 2014 from accidental overdoses (as I write this) had figured that out, I wouldn’t be looking for a new barber, a little girl wouldn’t be without her dad, and a lot of people wouldn’t be without their friends, sons, daughters and parents.

The drug naloxone, or Narcan, has the potential to save the lives of persons who have overdone whatever opiate they have chosen to overdo. It is an opioid antagonist designed to counter life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. It works. I have administered it and seen it work hundreds of times. I have also seen hundreds of people take things so far that no opioid antagonist will ever reverse their condition.

Making Narcan readily available to the public has the potential to save the lives of people who have overdosed and happen to have a responsible person nearby to administer the drug. It also has the potential to give drug users the temptation to push their high to the limit and then return from the brink of death through the judicious use of the miracle drug that they now can get as easily as they can their drug of choice.

I wish Narcan were the answer. It is not, just as the drugs and alcohol of my youth were not. Just as the fentanyl-laced heroin that is killing so many people this year who were looking for peace, serenity and escape is not.

The answer for those inclined to seek escape through intoxicants is abstinence, and an honest and diligent pursuit of contented sobriety.

About the author

Michael Morse is a rescue captain with the Providence Fire Department and the author of Rescuing Providence and Responding. He has worked on engine, ladder and rescue companies during his 21-year career. His current assignment is Rescue Company 5. Michael blogs at RescuingProvidence.com.
Comments
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Forrest Robleto Forrest Robleto Thursday, March 06, 2014 4:50:07 PM Exactly the same argument as birth control promotes promiscuity. Nonsense.
Cristyne Coutieri Cristyne Coutieri Thursday, March 06, 2014 6:43:58 PM I've been an EMT for over 24 years & Narcan has changed a lot over the years. Unfortunately so have the drug overdoses. Maybe I'm just a little more aware of it because it hits close to home (I got clean at the age of 15 back in 1987 when drugs were "purer" so to speak.). More & more of these illegal designer drugs as well as the prescription drugs that they're using aren't opioids or it's too late when we get to them. It's pretty scary. Narcan isn't the answer sometimes (most times), neither is getting high & dying. There's other ways to get intoxicated without putting any legal or illegal substance into your body. For me it's every time I get to help someone or save a life.
Dale Simmons Dale Simmons Friday, March 07, 2014 4:53:09 AM I have seen the articles allowing law enforcement officers to give narcan and how it has saved lives before EMS can get there, but what about the side effects? We have spent months training in our profession to be able to give drugs properly. I get the feeling in the articles that a four hour class makes them certified to give the drug. We hear about the saves. Has it worked every time? Have there been situations where the drug caused issues that law enforcement can't fix? I don't think a 4 hours class makes me certified to carry a gun as a paramedic any more than the same class makes a law enforcement officer certified to give a drug. Narcan is not aspirin. It needs to be given in the presence of a qualified medical professional. The article is right on.
Rescuing Providence Rescuing Providence Friday, March 07, 2014 6:44:55 AM I wrote this article a day after my friend overdosed. I wasn't thinking as an EMT, EMS spokesperson or authority on the subject of narcan availability. The main point in my mind that I failed to articulate was the fear of heroin that had been driven into me and most of my drug experiencing friends as a young teenagers in the drug infested suberbs where we grew up. People died every day in my town from accidental overdoses, and I don't think having narcan available to them would have saved them. Most addicts die alone, and that is something I know, not from reading or studying data, rather from finding them dead, and alone. It is my opinion, and whether it is right or wrong does not make me any less worthy as a person or EMT, that having an antidote to opiate overdose mainstream will take the fear of the real killer, heroin, out of the minds of potential heroin abusers. I have been in EMS for twenty-five years and have never experienced an elderly person accidentally overdose to the point of death on their prescriptions but have seen many people OD and die from abusing theirs, or somebody elses, and again, they died alone. It is not easy for me to think that a life could be saved if narcan was on the counter, and I advocated against it, but it is my firm belief that keeping the ugly, dirty and deadly drug heroin in the same catagory as a loaded gun will save far more lives that thousands of unused narcan sprays, vials or syringes.
Marty Forseth Marty Forseth Friday, March 07, 2014 6:47:35 AM The public availability of Naloxone (Narcan) is purely about saving lives and that is the only way we should look at it. Sould we not make AEDs available to persons who smoke or don't have a good diet???
George Yaworski George Yaworski Friday, March 07, 2014 6:54:18 AM Anybody who wants to die will find a way to die. Narcan is for the cancer patient who is in treatment and took too much pain releif and doesn't want to die, for the fracture that has something else on board before that he didn't disclose when you hit him with the morphine and he crashes out. Drug addicts my2cents all want to die, nothing will save them except themselves.
Matt Emison Matt Emison Friday, March 07, 2014 8:37:47 AM Oh so you haven't gone through the armed security course yet? Lol. I hear yea
Edwin Harcourt Edwin Harcourt Saturday, March 08, 2014 12:58:28 AM People don't intentionally code to feel good, and use the AED to resuscitate themselves enough to live when the code goes too far. Your counterpoint does not match the original point.
Edwin Harcourt Edwin Harcourt Saturday, March 08, 2014 1:04:00 AM To demonstate: what smoker -who smokes one pack a day- sees that an AED is available, and because that AED is available (and ONLY because that AED is available), he increases to three packs a day, because he figures if he codes, heck, someone will just slap the pads on him, and he'll be ok? Answer: None. The purpose of the article is to demonstrate the dangers of public narcan distribution. If someone has narcan next to them, they can figure "Hey, I wonder how high I can get without dying," and actually attempt it, figuring narcan will save them.
Wilson Morse Wilson Morse Sunday, March 09, 2014 1:53:12 PM Nothing is as easy as it seems.
Schuyler Gazzo Schuyler Gazzo Tuesday, March 11, 2014 10:19:07 AM You clearly have no idea what addiction is. Absolutely none.

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