COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Access to a life-saving drug has expanded exponentially in recent years in Ohio. Some advocates think the increase in naloxone dispensing, both in pharmacies and through community initiatives, could eventually help curb the state’s opioid epidemic.
Naloxone, more commonly known by the brand name Narcan, can reverse opioid overdoses when administered quickly.
Findings from a new study by the University of Cincinnati show the life-saving drug has been dispensed more than 2,000 percent more often in Ohio since 2015. The increase happened in the years after the state made naloxone available without a prescription, effectively lowering the barrier for many to obtain the drug.
The study accounts for naloxone dispensed through pharmacies, but it comes while many communities are hoping to increase access even more.
With dozens of suspected overdose deaths in just one week in Franklin County, health officials have stepped up their efforts to fight the epidemic. In the first week of the so-called ‘Narcan Blitz,’ various locations gave out more than 200 naloxone kits.
Jeremy Miller, 36, knows firsthand the life-saving effects of Narcan.
The native West Virginian entered treatment for an opioid addiction at The Refuge in Columbus in April, 2019. He served as a physical therapist assistant in the U.S. Army for 12 years before moving home and working several odd jobs.
Prescription painkillers were Miller’s first introduction to opioids.
“It was just a minor injury, something that wasn’t even really significant,” he explained. “But I liked the way the medication made me feel.”
When the prescription ran out, Miller eventually resorted to its cheaper cousin, heroin.
“Things spun out of control a little bit,” he said.
Though he was able to maintain a job, Miller says the drugs derailed his life. In 2018, he took more than his body could handle and first responders used Narcan to revive him.
“I remember using and thinking something didn’t quite feel right about that time… and then all I remember is waking up in the back of an ambulance with the paramedics and deputy sheriffs around me,” he recalled. “From that moment I knew, ‘Look you need to do something or you’re going to wind up dead – again.’”
Critics worry overdose reversal drugs can simply give addicts a reason to continue using. Miller himself admits Narcan can create a false sense of safety with drug users.
“I think it allows the addict to use more because they have it with them and they feel okay,” he said. “If something does happen, it’s in my pocket.”
The second chance Narcan afforded Miller is the reason why some first responders advocate for it to be widely distributed.
“There’s always the question: Is Narcan an enabling drug? But it’s really just a bridge to tomorrow,” said Lt. Matt Parrish of the Columbus Division Fire.
The Columbus Fire Administration Complex is among a number of naloxone drop-in sites throughout central Ohio. Anyone can receive a naloxone kit and proper training from paramedics.
Parrish explained the department’s medics will respond to an average of 10-12 overdose calls each day. In recent years, it’s become more common for a bystander to have already administered naloxone prior to the crews arriving.
The Columbus Division of Fire partners with community agencies to connect overdose victims with proper resources after they’ve been revived.
“The naloxone or Narcan will bridge the gap and keep you safe, but ultimately our goal is to help get you into treatment,” Parrish said.
After his near-death experience, Miller said it took almost a half year before he truly hit “rock-bottom” and decided to seek professional help.
“Being broken, busted, and disgusted really made me realize I needed some help,” he said.
Miller found the right support system through The Refuge, a residential Christian ministry program. He says bridging the gap to services after overdose is the real key to overcoming addiction.
“I would like to think that Narcan is the end-all, be-all to drug addiction… but it’s not,” he said.
Find a list of addiction resources here.