Intentionally overdosing on narcotics with the intention of being brought back to life sounds like the plot of a science fiction movie, but it may be reality across some parts of the country. Tales of these so-called “Narcan® parties” are frustrating local emergency responders and adding further complexity to the issues surrounding opioid addiction and abuse.
Narcan® is one of the brand names for the drug naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses. It is an opiate antagonist that works by essentially filling opiate receptors in the brain, replacing opioids. It can reverse the effects of narcotic overdose very quickly, and it has proven vital in saving lives of people who are in the grips of a potentially deadly overdose situation. However, as its effects become more widely known, some drug users have begun to abuse this knowledge in favor of chasing a different kind of high.
Effects of Opioids on the Brain
Opioids like heroin and many prescription painkillers work by attaching themselves to specific opiate receptors in the brain. This stimulates the brain to produce certain neurotransmitter chemicals, including dopamine, creating the feelings of calmness and euphoria. However, an overdose will slow down the body’s natural processes to a dangerous degree.
Respiration will slow down or stop, preventing the body from getting enough oxygen. The user will lose consciousness and, without intervention, die. Naloxone reverses this dangerous process, bringing a person back around to consciousness within about five minutes of receiving a dosage.
Naloxone can be delivered by anyone who has received training in its use. Thanks to the Overdose Prevention Act, any individual who is trained to administer naloxone can go on to train others. This means that the overdose reversal drug is available to people who are not medical professionals. For this reason, it’s possible for a drug user to obtain naloxone and use it on a fellow drug user, hence the rise in popularity of the so-called “Narcan® parties.”
The Potential Danger of Narcan®
Reversing the fatal effects of a narcotics overdose is undeniably a positive thing. Naloxone has saved thousands of lives. However, some people claim that it has encouraged drug users to be reckless on purpose.
News reports at several outlets across the country have mentioned the growing risks of “Nacan® parties” or “Lazarus parties,” where users overdose on drugs with the intention of being dosed with naloxone. According to these reports, the appeal lies in risk-taking behavior and the thrill of cheating death.
Officials argue about the reality of these parties and how widespread they might really be. According to some authorities, there are no proven cases of accidental overdose with the intention of being revived. However, this does not mean that knowledge of and access to naloxone is harmless: Knowing that an overdose can be almost immediately reversed may make the drug seem “safer,” encouraging reckless behavior.
Whether or not naloxone parties are actually a growing threat, the fact is that naloxone alone is not an effective solution for the nation’s opioid crisis. First, it is only effective against narcotics. Individuals who are mixing drugs may still run the risk of a dangerous overdose that cannot be treated with Narcan® , and this risk may be underestimated by some drug users.
More importantly, naloxone provides only a temporary emergency solution to a much more complex problem. Administering naloxone may save a life in the immediate moment, but it will not cure a person’s addiction or prevent them from future incidents of abuse and overdose. Addiction requires long-term treatment and personalized interventions that deal with the underlying cause of the substance abuse problem.
Focusing too much attention on a “quick fix” solution to the problem of fatal overdoses takes attention away from the more complicated issues wrapped up in substance abuse. In the long term, the only way to reverse the alarming trends of drug-related death in our country will be to focus on bigger picture and tackle the many-headed monster of drug use on all fronts.