Preventing deaths from rising opioid overdose in the US – the promise of naloxone antidote in community-based naloxone take-home programs
Michele M Straus, Udi E Ghitza, Betty Tai
Center for the Clinical Trials Network, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MD, USA
Abstract: The opioid overdose epidemic is an alarming and serious public health problem in the United States (US) that has been escalating for 11 years. The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) demonstrated that 1 in 20 persons in the US aged 12 or older reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year. Prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States – surpassing motor vehicle accidents. Great efforts have been initiated to curb the overdose crisis. Notable examples of these efforts are (1) the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Take-Back Initiative instituted in 2010; (2) the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) implemented in most US states to provide practitioners with point-of-care information regarding a patient's controlled substance use; (3) the naloxone rescue programs initiated in the community to avert mortality resulting from overdose. The use of naloxone rescue strategies has gained traction as an effective measure to prevent fatal opioid overdose. Many US federal-government agencies are working to make these strategies more accessible to first responders and community participants. This new approach faces many challenges, such as accessibility to naloxone and the equipment and training needed to administer it, but none is more challenging than the fear of legal repercussions. US federal-government agencies, local governments, health care institutions, and community-based organizations have begun to tackle these barriers, and naloxone take-home programs have gained recognition as a feasible and sensible preventive strategy to avoid a fatal result from opioid overdose. Although many challenges still need to be overcome, it is important for federal government research agencies to initiate and support independent and rigorous evaluation of these programs to inform policymakers how effective these programs can be to save lives and curb the opioid overdose public health crisis.
Keywords: prescription drug abuse, fatal opioid overdose, naloxone antidote, Good Samaritan laws, naloxone take-home program