Just say no to Nar­can? Heroin res­cue ef­forts draw back­lash

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Dan Sewell

CINCIN­NATI >> First re­spon­ders in U.S. com­mu­ni­ties reel­ing from waves of heroin over­doses say some peo­ple tell them they should just say no to us­ing so many re­sources on drug abusers.

Au­thor­i­ties say peo­ple have ex­pressed frus­tra­tion about res­cu­ing ad­dicts who of­ten im­me­di­ately re­sume us­ing the po­ten­tially deadly drug. There are also con­cerns voiced about the wide-rang­ing so­cial and gov­ern­ment bud­get costs in­volved, in­clud­ing for the over­dose an­ti­dote nalox­one.

Some signs of heroin over­dose back­lash:

• Gov. Paul LePage in hard-hit Maine ve­toed leg­is­la­tion this year to ex­pand ac­cess to nalox­one, usu­ally un­der the brand name Nar­can. He has ex­plained that when peo­ple are re­ceiv­ing a dozen or more doses, they should start hav­ing to pay for it. The Leg­is­la­ture over­rode his veto.

• An ef­fort by au­thor­i­ties in Ohio’s Hamilton County to get a dan­ger­ous heroin batch off the streets by of­fer­ing im­mu­nity for peo­ple who turn in drugs drew a re­buke from Sher­iff Richard Jones in neigh­bor­ing But­ler County, who ar­gued it only en­ables deal­ers and users and gives them an ex­cuse if they are caught.

• A po­lice photo of a grand­mother and her boyfriend un­con­scious af­ter over­dos­ing with a 4-yearold boy in their car went vi­ral this month af­ter the po­lice de­part­ment in Ohio’s East Liver­pool posted it on Face­book, draw­ing thou­sands of com­ments in­clud­ing from peo­ple de­cry­ing le­nience to­ward users who en­dan­ger chil­dren or steal to sup­port their habits.

• A re­tired at­tor­ney wrote an op-ed col­umn in The Cincin­nati En­quirer ex­am­in­ing the costs of treat­ing heroin ad­dic­tion, the strain on pub­lic re­sources and the rise in “drugged driv­ing” accidents as he urged ag­gres­sive pun­ish­ment. “What so­cial pol­icy is ad­vanced by sub­si­diz­ing reck­less­ness?” John M. Kunst Jr., of sub­ur­ban Cincin­nati, wrote ear­lier this year. “Why do we ex­cuse and en­able ad­dic­tion?”

“I un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion,” said Po­lice Chief Thomas Sy­nan Jr. of New­town, Ohio, who heads a Cincin­nati-area heroin coali­tion task force. “I un­der­stand the feel­ing that some­one is do­ing some­thing to them­selves, so why do the rest of us have to pay? But our job is to save lives, pe­riod.”

He started hear­ing more of the frus­tra­tion amid an over­dose spike in the Cincin­nati area that saw 174 re­ported over­doses within six days last month. And the out­breaks con­tinue, with seven over­dose deaths Satur­day in the Cleve­land area.

Sy­nan said un­like with re­peat heroin over­dosers, he has never had mem­bers of the pub­lic say he shouldn’t try to save a ha­bit­ual drunk driver af­ter an auto ac­ci­dent or some­one who has re­peat­edly at­tempted sui­cide.

Mar­ion, Ohio, Fire Capt. Wade Ralph said heroin has an “ex­tremely ex­pen­sive” toll on his de­part­ment, strug­gling to keep up while be­ing un­der­staffed and re­ly­ing on do­na­tions from health or­ga­ni­za­tions for nalox­one to re­vive those who over­dose.

“There’s a hu­man fac­tor to that that some peo­ple, I think, just for­get about or maybe they ig­nore it and say, ‘Hey screw it, let them die.’ I’m like, you can’t do that. We have peo­ple here, we have guys at the fire­house, whose kids have been hooked on stuff like that,” said Ralph, whose city of some 37,000 peo­ple was hit last year by 30 over­dose hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and two deaths in a 12-day stretch.

In the Cincin­nati area, first re­spon­ders have held the death toll to what ap­pears to be low dou­ble dig­its, pend­ing lab re­sults. The spread­ing prac­tice of mix­ing heroin with the pow­er­ful painkiller fen­tanyl or with car­fen­tanil, so strong it’s used to tran­quil­ize ele­phants, has re­sulted in fre­quent needs for mul­ti­ple doses of nalox­one.

“If they weren’t do­ing their job, they’d all be dead,” said Chris­tel Brooks, a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict in Cincin­nati who said she’s been clean for 12 years now. She said the prob­lem is lack of treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties and other re­sources for in­ter­ven­tion be­fore res­cued ad­dicts re­sume drug use.

Wilkes-Barre, Penn­syl­va­nia, Fire Chief Jay De­laney wrote this year to fed­eral and state law­mak­ers for fund­ing for the nalox­one, ex­pect­ing to ad­min­is­ter doses this year worth about $10,000 to $11,000 at $40 each.

“Whether a fire­fighter is sav­ing one from a burn­ing build­ing or ad­min­is­ter­ing Nar­can, you’re still sav­ing that hu­man be­ing’s life, so that’s a big deal to us,” said De­laney, whose de­part­ment has re­ceived grant money this year but needs a steady fund­ing an­swer. “We never thought ... that we would have so many that we would have to deal with so it be­came a fund­ing cri­sis.”

Lawrence, Mas­sachusetts, po­lice last week re­leased cell­phone video of an over­dosed mother ly­ing in a store aisle while her tod­dler daugh­ter tried to re­vive her be­fore paramedics ar­rived and did so.

Fam­ily Dol­lar clerk Ni­cau­rys Anziani, who called 911, told The Ea­gle-Tri­bune news­pa­per she felt ter­ri­ble for the lit­tle girl, who “was just cry­ing and cry­ing and cry­ing.”

Po­lice said they hoped shar­ing the video will alert peo­ple to the con­se­quences of drug use that they see on the front lines, as East Liver­pool po­lice ex­plained about their photo of the over­dosed cou­ple with a child.

Ron Cal­houn, an an­tidrug ac­tivist in north­ern Ken­tucky, dis­putes sug­ges­tions he hears of­ten that re­viv­ing peo­ple with nalox­one is en­abling heroin use.

“The only thing Nar­can en­ables is breath­ing,” he re­sponds. “We just want to keep them alive and get them into treat­ment.”

He said one young woman he knows had been re­vived 15 times with nalox­one.

“And to­day, she’s in re­hab,” Cal­houn said. “Corpses don’t do well in re­hab.”

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