DIGGING DEEPER: Is an opioid antidote saving or enabling?

The opioid epidemic is a terrifying reality. According to the Centers for Disease Control, ERs in the Midwest saw a 70 percent rise in overdose cases last year. Now, there’s a new concern regarding the antidote used to save people from opioid overdoses. 

Whether it’s needle injections, nasal spray, or the newly available Evzio trainer injection; Nalaxone, or Narcan, comes in many different forms but all with the same goal, to reverse the effects opioids have on the body. 

"You can automatically see an improvement," said Captain Kasey Kendall with Adams County Ambulance. "Once you give it to the patient they go from either unresponsive and not breathing to fully awake."

Kendall says they started seeing an increase in opiate overdoses about two years ago.  

"Previously we would carry one vial but after we started seeing an increase in overdoses of opiates we started carrying two vials of the Narcan," said Kendall. 

With more and more people overdosing everyday, Kendall says Narcan has become center stage.

"Narcan is one of those ‘miracle drugs,’" said Kendall. 

Sarra Duque is now clean and counseling other addicts after 16 years of drug abuse. It was an addiction which started with pills when she was in college. 

"My mom had a prescription for Oxycontin," said Duque. "I was introduced to that. I knew my mom had it so I started taking it from my mom and I became addicted to that very fast."

Over the next several years Duque turned to other types of drugs including cocaine and bath salts, but eventually turned back to opioids. 

"I was a stay-at-home mom," said Duque. "I didn’t work. I was lonely and I got bored. That was the main reason for my addiction at that time was just something to do and that’s when I started getting into pills again."

Duque says she would take Dilaudid, a narcotic used to treat pain, along with fentanyl to go to sleep every night. 

"I almost probably killed myself multiple times," said Duque. 

It all changed when Duque was arrested back in 2011.

But people just like Duque are continuing to go in and out of jail, as they try and break free from addiction. 

"Since 2015 or so we’ve been going to just an increase of calls relating to heroin and opioid addiction and overdoses," said Detective Matt Wilt with the Hannibal Police Department. 

Wilt has been with the Hannibal Police Department for 11 years. He says more opioid calls means more opioid injections. 

"Most of these people are craving that high and if you take that away they are desperate to get it back," said Wilt. 

There’s no question that Narcan saves lives, but some worry it may enable addicts. Wilt believes it’s a short term solution to a much bigger problem. 

"It might save their life for the time being but it’s definitely not making them want the drugs any less," said Wilt. "They’re still going to go back out, wanting these drugs."

Although Duque never got to the point of needing Narcan, she says she now keeps it on hand in case she comes across someone who may be overdosing. 

"I would hate to see more friends that I’ve known or clients that I’ve seen come through here die from it when there is this readily available that can save them," said Duque. a

Who knows, that one life-saving dose of Narcan could mean the start of a new life, one free of addiction. 

"Saving their life, I don’t think should be portrayed as enabling them." said Duque. "I think everybody is entitled to a chance."

Narcan is now available over-the-counter in most states, including Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. 

Most insurance, Medicaid and Medicare will pay for it, but coverage varies by state. 

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