Avoiding Overdose Deaths

By on May 18, 2020

The current climate of change and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially dangerous for those who abuse alcohol or other drugs.  A new study reported by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids estimates that “as many as 75,000 additional people in the United States could die from drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” They reported that “The isolation, pain and suffering from the pandemic, along with unprecedented economic failure and massive unemployment, are increasing deaths of despair.”

    Any one of us can potentially save a friend, loved one, or even a stranger from dying of an overdose.

“Someone just overdosed…”  This statement is heard too often these days. If you ever wondered if you might be in a position to be of assistance to a person who has taken too much of a drug or taken a dangerous combination of drugs, here are some ideas for you.

The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), “is a comprehensive harm reduction program”, accessible to anyone ((336) 543-8050 or [email protected].) They describe protections provided to anyone who asks for help by calling 911 for a person who has overdosed. They explain that:

“The 911 Good Samaritan laws state that individuals who experience a drug overdose or persons who witness an overdose and seek help for the victim can no longer be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of drugs, paraphernalia, or underage drinking.  The purpose of the law is to remove the fear of criminal repercussions for calling 911 to report an overdose, and to instead focus efforts on getting help to the victim.  Also, a person who seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose cannot be considered in violation of a condition of parole, probation, or post-release, even if that person was arrested. The victim is also protected. The caller must provide his/her name to 911 or law enforcement to qualify for the immunity.”

Sometimes a person at or called to the scene has a medication with them known as Naloxone or Narcan. This is a medication that “reverses an opioid overdose, which can be caused by prescription analgesics (e.g., Percocet, OxyContin), and heroin. Naloxone will only reverse an opioid overdose, it does not prevent deaths caused by other drugs such as benzodiazepines (e.g.Xanax®, Klonopin® and Valium®), bath salts, cocaine, methamphetamine or alcohol. However, naloxone may also be effective for polysubstance overdoses such as a combined opioid and alcohol overdose. It cannot be used to get high and is not addictive. Naloxone is safe and effective; emergency medical professionals have used it for decades. For more detailed information, visit www.drugs.com/pro/naloxone.html.”

The 911 law also “removes civil liabilities from doctors who prescribe and bystanders who administer naloxone, or Narcan, an opiate antidote which reverses drug overdose from opiates, thereby saving the life of the victim.  The legislation also allows community based organizations to dispense naloxone under the guidance of a medical provider. As a result, officers may encounter people who use opiates and their loved ones carrying overdose reversal kits that may include naloxone vials and 3cc syringes. Pharmacists are also immune from civil or criminal liability for dispensing naloxone to people at risk of an opioid overdose.”

Narcan / Naloxone is available in the Outer Banks at no cost from the Department of Health & Human Services in Manteo and in Frisco. It may also be obtained from the NCHRC, depending on availability and is for sale at local pharmacies.

Sources: 1) https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/study-covid-19-could-greatly-increase-deaths-from-alcohol-and-drug-misuse-and-suicide/ (Partnership for Drug-Free Kids May 14, 2020) ; 2) http://www.nchrc.org/programs-and-services/

NOTE: Part of this column was originally published in the Outer Banks Sentinel on 8/l/18.

Jo Ann Hummers, EdD, is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She has a private practice at the Nags Head Professional Center. Her work includes DWI assessments and treatment, smoking cessation sessions, and treatment for gambling and other addictions.


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