The Baltimore City Health Department is handing out naloxone, the potentially life-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, to almost anyone in the community.
Baltimore, considered the “U.S. Heroin Capital” by some, reportedly has the highest heroin addiction rate per capita in the country. Officials are also teaching people how to properly administer the drug, according to STAT News.
The city already has an extensive needle exchange program in place, which allows people to swap used syringes for new, sanitized ones. Every two-pack antidote kit handed out at needle exchange stations costs Baltimore’s health department $75, according to STAT News.
The city has been coming up with innovative, yet controversial, ideas to help combat the opioid and heroin epidemic that is striking both Baltimore and the country.
Baltimore’s initiatives are making the antidote naloxone (also known under its brand name Narcan) accessible to police forces, security guards, parking enforcement and other members of the public.
These capabilities and resources were once only available to healthcare providers, like emergency responders and hospitals.
Maryland passed the Good Samaritan Law in October of 2015, which provides protection, even immunity, from arrest while assisting in an emergency overdose situation.
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, who helped develop and establish the law, says such a statute is to thank for the increase in training sessions.
Wen says the law empowers individuals to save lives when official emergency responders are not present. There have been approximately 15,000 training programs offered since the measure took effect in October of last year.
“I have Narcan in my bag right now, because you never know,” Wen told STAT News.
During an event called “Covering the Opioid Crisis” at the National Press Club in late September, Wen said that while she is usually an optimist, things will get way worse before they get better.
She claims that more cities across the country should implement similar initiatives to help stave off the severe outbreak of opioid and heroin abuse. Wen urged that addicts be treated as diseased persons, not criminals.
Not everyone agrees with Wen’s mindset, nor is in favor of such initiatives. Paul LePage, the Republican governor of Maine, wrote a letter to his state’s legislature describing why he is vetoing a bill that facilitate access to naloxone.
“Naloxone does not truly save lies; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote. “Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”
LePage says there are other ways to combat the growing problem, like warning young people of the dangers of heroin, and addressing doctors who seemingly overprescribe opioids.
Heroin is now often laced with carfentanil, a synthetic opioid, which is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. This is a contributing factor to fatal opioid overdoses nearly quadrupling in the past 15 years.
The heroin and opioid epidemic has become so widespread and severe that Michael Botticelli, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, felt compelled to promote such untraditional ideas.
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