Is Narcan a blessing or a curse? It’s both
Monday's news that New Jersey ACME stores will begin selling the heroin antidote naloxone (Narcan) in their pharmacies without a prescription has some people talking. It shouldn't come as a surprise, however. ACME stores in Pennsylvania have already been doing it, and as far back as 2015 CVS pharmacies were selling the drug without a prescription too. Walgreens began offering the same last year.
For those who don't know, the drug sold under the brand name Narcan is a nasal (or sometimes an injected) medication that quickly reverses the effect of a heroin overdose. Many police departments throughout the state have it and it is responsible for a lot of saved lives. Since 2014 Narcan has been used by emergency workers over 18,000 times in New Jersey. Sold without a prescription, the out of pocket cost is $149. Who would buy it? Almost anyone who loves and worries about a heroin user in the short term.
It's hard to argue against the idea that this is anything but a blessing. Imagine being able to have something nearby that you can grab faster than police or EMTs can be there when you find your son or daughter blue and lifeless on the floor. Along with saving them is that eternal hope that this will be the time that scares them enough to have rehab truly take hold. To go through the agonizing forever battle of turning their life around.
Then there's the dark side. Narcan saves lives, yes. It does nothing to turn lives around. There is nothing that a prescription-less Narcan dose can do to force an addict to face themselves. It can't make you want to give rehab one more try. It can't make you want to live. Many hospital workers will tell you of their frustration in seeing a Narcan saved addict in their emergency room only to be brought right back in a few days later.
Perhaps its too dramatic to say Narcan serves as a Get Out Of Jail Free card (or in this case Get Out Of Morgue Free card), but isn't it reasonable to assume a certain percentage of heroin users feel they can be ever more reckless with the antidote nearby? Push the envelope ever further? Ultimately Narcan is both a blessing and a curse. It's absolutely right that something which can save lives is available in stores like CVS, Walgreens, and now ACME without a prescription. But it's absolutely wrong to think of it as anything other than an extremely temporary second chance, as thin and flimsy as a needle itself.
More from New Jersey 101.5: