It's often family to the rescue during opioid ODs

May 17, 2017 by Randy Dotinga, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—The tragic scenario has become far too familiar: A mother, a father or a sibling discovers the lifeless body of a loved one who has overdosed on opioids.

But a new study suggests that may be able to play a lifesaving role in some of these instances, mostly because of increased access to an antidote that can reverse an otherwise deadly ending. Sometimes, even the victims can rescue themselves from a potentially fatal overdose.

Researchers in Massachusetts looked at people who underwent training in using the antidote—known as naloxone (Narcan, Evzio)—and found that family members used it in about 20 percent of slightly over 4,000 rescue attempts. Almost all rescue attempts were successful.

"Individuals who use opioids are likely to use naloxone on both friends and family" who overdose, explained study author Dr. Sarah Bagley, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine.

"And people who do not use opioids, often parents of opioid users, are also likely to use naloxone on friends or strangers, not just on family members," she said. "It is important that anyone who may be around someone at risk for an have access to naloxone."

Naloxone "is the treatment of choice for opioid overdose, and has been for decades," Bagley noted.

It hasn't been clear, however, how loved ones fit into the picture of naloxone use. So, the researchers tracked almost 41,000 people who enrolled in training programs in Massachusetts between 2008 and 2015. Just over a quarter were relatives of , and many reported being substance users themselves.

The researchers found that those who got training made 4,373 attempts to use naloxone to save people who were overdosing on opioids such as the painkiller OxyContin or heroin.

Of those, 20 percent had earlier defined themselves as likely to use the antidote on a family member. Overall, the drug users who were overdosing survived 98 percent of the time, Bagley said.

The findings likely reflect the situation elsewhere in the country, she said.

The United States is in the grip of an opioid painkiller epidemic, with more than 10 million people using prescription opioids for non-medical reasons in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, heroin use has jumped fivefold in the past decade, a trend many health officials blame on the lax use of prescription painkillers.

"Families are willing participants in this fight again overdose deaths, and more should be done to involve them as allies," Bagley said.

According to Bagley, in Massachusetts purchase Narcan nasal spray kits—with two devices each—for $75. A state program provides them for free when there's a high risk of overdose, she said.

Pharmacies also offer the kits, she said, and the costs can be billed to insurers. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies provide the kits without a prescription in many states.

Dr. Jennifer Plumb, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said the study is valid and useful. "No one can save themselves from an overdose, so others need to be prepared," she said.

Plumb added that loved ones may be unwilling to seek the kits from doctors and pharmacists, meaning that officials must find other ways to reach them, such as through community organizations and meetings.

"There is likely a degree of stigma and judgment concerns that play into that," she said, "as well as some lack of understanding about the fact that they can be legally equipped with it."

As for training, Plumb said there are many videos available online.

"We do a fair amount of coaching over the phone with people who have kits and want to make sure they know what to do if it is ever needed," she said. "In general, people we have talked to who have used a kit felt that they were prepared."

Dr. Phillip Coffin, director of substance use research with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, also praised the study. He said training can take just 5 to 10 minutes.

Coffin noted that the study shows family members who were substance users themselves were more likely to save the lives of others with the antidote. "This does emphasize the primacy of getting to people who use substances," he said.

The study was published recently in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.

Explore further: Overdose prevention and naloxone rescue among family members of people who use opioids

More information: Sarah Bagley, M.D., assistant professor, medicine and pediatrics, and director, Catalyst Clinic, Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center; Jennifer Plumb, M.D., MPH, assistant professor, pediatrics, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City; Phillip Coffin, M.D., director, substance use research, Center for Public Health Research, San Francisco Department of Public Health; April 27, 2017, Drug and Alcohol Review

For details about how to get Narcan in your state, try the drug manufacturer.

Related Stories

Overdose prevention and naloxone rescue among family members of people who use opioids

April 29, 2017
Family members are often the ones who administer naloxone during an opioid overdose and should be considered as part of the larger response to help curb fatal overdoses. These findings, published online in Drug and Alcohol ...

Access to naloxone eased in Louisiana, Utah

February 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Health officials in Utah and Louisiana have issued orders to make naloxone more widely available in an effort to prevent overdose deaths, according to a report from the American Medical Association.

Most on opioid painkillers OK with getting overdose antidote: survey

September 13, 2016
(HealthDay)—A new, small survey of people taking powerful opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin found that most were willing to also fill prescriptions for an overdose antidote.

Narcan project has stopped nine opioid overdoses; seeks additional naloxone kits

September 23, 2016
A University of Alabama at Birmingham crowdfunded study to provide naloxone kits to family and friends of at-risk opioid users has distributed over 100 kits and has seen nine overdose reversals since it began in Nov. 2015. ...

Pharmacies should proactively offer naloxone to all patients who meet evidence-based criteria

March 23, 2017
Pharmacies should proactively offer naloxone, a drug that blocks or reverses the effects of overdose, to patients taking opioid medications through universal opt-out strategies in an effort to get the life-saving drug into ...

New Mexico is 1st state to boost access to overdose antidote

April 6, 2017
New Mexico is the first state to require all local and state law enforcement agencies to provide officers with antidote kits as the state works to curb deaths from opioid and heroin overdoses.

Recommended for you

Drug wholesalers drove fentanyl's deadly rise, report concludes

December 4, 2018
Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year, most likely spread because of heroin and prescription pill shortages, and also because it was cheaper for drug ...

College students choose smartphones over food

November 16, 2018
University at Buffalo researchers have found that college students prefer food deprivation over smartphone deprivation, according to results from a paper in Addictive Behaviors.

Drug overdose epidemic goes far beyond opioids, requires new policies

November 7, 2018
Most government-funded initiatives to address the overdose epidemic in the United States have targeted opioids specifically and have neglected other drugs that are increasingly implicated in overdoses, such as cocaine and ...

Cocaine adulterant may cause brain damage

November 1, 2018
People who regularly take cocaine cut with the animal anti-worming agent levamisole demonstrate impaired cognitive performance and a thinned prefrontal cortex. These findings from two recent studies at the University of Zurich ...

Poverty blamed on widening north-south gap in young adult deaths in England

November 1, 2018
A major study of mortality across England led by University of Manchester data scientists blames socioeconomic deprivation for sharp rises in deaths among 22 to 44-year-olds living in the North of England.

Prenatal exposure to substances found in plastics associated with language development delays

October 30, 2018
Pregnant mothers' exposure to phthalates – substances often used in personal care products, children's toys and more – may be linked to delays in language development during early childhood, according to a study published ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.