Narcan deserves debate

Most people who don’t use illegal drugs probably aren’t familiar with naloxone, a drug also known by the trade name Narcan.

Naloxone has the capability of reversing a heroin or other opiate overdose instantly. It binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, displacing other drugs and reversing the effects.

It’s a drug that can be administered by injection into a muscle or as a nasal spray, but it won’t reverse the effects of other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

It’s already been credited with saving an estimated 1,000 lives in the Pittsburgh area; it also has saved lives in area hospital emergency rooms, including UPMC Altoona’s.

The Altoona Mobile Emergency Department (AMED) has successfully reversed heroin overdoses, using it.

It’s a godsend, not only for users of illegal drugs, but for people who are taking opiates legally as prescribed by their doctor. But it is posing a dilemma for local-level municipalities and their police departments – specifically, because of the costs associated with having it available.

Narcan is a topic that needs to be given much more attention on the municipal front, not only by officials but by the public – the taxpayers – whom they serve.

There’s already a push for stepped-up discussion on the state level emanating from the Blair Drug & Alcohol Partnerships. The program believes changes in state law need to be made to get Narcan into the hands of more people, including people with opiate prescriptions.

Currently, Narcan is not a drug people can buy over the counter. All considered, it’s unlikely that will change soon.

Among the law-abiding public aware of naloxone, opinion is divided on whether more availability would encourage increased risky behavior. It’s a legitimate basis for disagreement.

Meanwhile, various costs are being mentioned regarding Narcan. According to a Feb. 17 article in the Mirror, the cost of one dose is between $15 and $20.

With the increasing number of overdoses being seen, not only here but throughout the rest of the country, the question for communities, police departments and other emergency responders becomes how to recoup the cost of a drug that rarely would be needed, if so many people weren’t using heroin or other opiates illegally.

Altoona police Lt. Jeffrey Pratt acknowledged that Narcan might not be feasible from a cost perspective for this city, as a result of the local budget constraints imposed by state fiscally distressed status.

Meanwhile, Logan Township officers, who like the city police often are the first responders in overdose emergencies, also do not yet carry naloxone in their vehicles.

Like the city department, the township is concerned about the cost issues. Community discussions would point the way on what stance to embrace, but the question must be looked at from a moral perspective as well as from a financial one. If there’s a resource for saving lives, should any community refuse to have it available?

Good conscience would seem to dictate no. However, many people aren’t sympathetic regarding illegal-drug overdoses. They don’t approve of taking costly extraordinary measures on behalf of individuals whose irresponsible, illegal conduct is behind their lives being placed at risk.

That is a valid argument, even if not the right one.