“It’s hard to feel empathy for an intoxicated person who caused a crash when you are looking at innocent people he has killed.”
On November 1st, Wilmington, North Carolina resident Jonathan Hayes plowed his pickup truck into the back of a family car, killing a two-year-old boy, Mason Richardson, and injuring the boy’s pregnant mother and sibling. The fire department and EMS personnel who arrived on scene found Hayes unconscious from an apparent heroin overdose and revived him using the opioid antidote, naloxone. This was the fourth time Hayes had been brought back from an overdose with naloxone.
This incident and others like it have ignited firestorm debates around the country, unleashing grief, anger and frustration at the lives lost to the irresponsible actions of people under the influence. But the ire is often directed at a surprising scapegoat: naloxone. Used to reverse overdose from opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers, naloxone (also called Narcan) has rapidly increased in availability across the country in an effort to reduce overdose deaths. Once a medicine reserved strictly for emergency personnel, in many states naloxone is now available to laypeople through pharmacies or community distribution programs. Advocates for naloxone point out that the medicine saves lives and gives people a second chance to make changes. But others hold opinions such as those published in the comments section of the Wilmington Star News after Hayes’ accident:
“It’s a shame that he was given a second chance to live today, the little boy didn’t get one at all.”
In many places, distributing naloxone to laypeople and their loved ones at risk of an overdose is criticized even without any deaths involved. A pharmacy on Staten Island decided to help fight the local heroin epidemic by offering naloxone for free to anyone at risk of an overdose. The gesture was met with comments on Facebook like this one:
“Disgusting, let’s give this to junkies for free so they can get high again a few hours later.”
Comments like these are disturbing to many, but particularly to people who have been revived with naloxone more than once.
Mike Page, also a Wilmington resident, was horrified when he heard the news of the accident. Page has a two-year-old daughter and he empathizes with Mason’s family and their grief. But Page also has a history of heroin addiction. Today he is living drug free and is a devoted husband and father, a passionate community volunteer, and a peer support specialist who helps others find recovery from drug addiction. But back in the throes of his addiction, he overdosed and was revived at least three times with naloxone.
“It’s unfortunate that it took as many times as it did for me to change my life but that is the reality of this condition,” says Page. “For some people, one shot [of naloxone] is all they need. For others it takes multiple opportunities. Who are we to decide how many chances is enough?”
Naloxone is a hot-topic issue around the country these days. Continue reading about how professionals and society as a whole look at the situation by checking out the original feature article Should We Limit How Many Times Someone Is Saved with Naloxone? over at The Fix.