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Saving Lives with NARCAN

by | May 31, 2023

NARCAN can be a life saving nasal spray.


Living in Davidson, a small town ranked in the top 5% of the safest cities in the United States, is, as some describe it, like living in a bubble. The facts are that drug use and addiction, problems worldwide, are also issues in our own community. Numerous causes contribute to the current opioid epidemic, but certainly our long months of isolation due to Covid, and the subsequent toll on mental health, were contributing factors. There have been at least three fatal overdoses in Davidson since December, 2022. Their ages ranged from the early 20s to the early 60s, and the income levels were in the middle to upper levels. The problem with opioids is that the drugs are no respecter of age, income level, race, or sex. How have we come to this serious health problem?

Synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin), were a big breakthrough in the treatment of chronic pain, and they became commonly prescribed after their release in 1995. The drugs work by binding to receptors in the brain that block pain. Such use may also result in a “high,” or euphoria, which can lead to addiction.

Physicians began treating patients with the drugs without realizing the ramifications because there were no warnings that the medications were addictive. If anyone has the genetic predisposition toward addiction, even one dose of such a drug can cause the euphoria that leads to addiction. Over time the body grows accustomed to the drugs and needs continually higher dosages.

Beginning in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. has experienced three waves of opioid overdose deaths. The first wave involved the aforementioned over-prescription of opioids for pain, and the second involved heroin abuse. We are now in the third wave, which began in 2013, and involves fentanyl, itself a highly regulated prescription narcotic, now easily and illegally manufactured. As physicians began restricting the prescription of opioids, drug dealers noticed that medical patients needed the drugs to help with their pain and, indeed, addictions, and so they began to illegally manufacture the drugs.

Illicit fentanyl is principally made in foreign labs and then smuggled into the United States. It poses a special danger because it is about 100 times more powerful than morphine, and it is often found combined with heroin, black market pills, cocaine, and marijuana.

According to the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration) website:

Producing illicit fentanyl is not an exact science. Two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and past usage.  DEA analysis has found counterfeit pills ranging from .02 to 5.1 milligrams (more than twice the lethal dose) of fentanyl per tablet.

  • 42% of pills tested for fentanyl contained at least 2 mg of fentanyl, considered a potentially lethal dose.
  • Drug trafficking organizations typically distribute fentanyl by the kilogram.  One kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.
  • It is possible for someone to take a pill without knowing it contains fentanyl. It is also possible to take a pill knowing it contains fentanyl, but with no way of knowing if it contains a lethal dose.
  • According to the CDC, synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) are the primary driver of overdose deaths in the United States

Our national opioid epidemic seems hopeless, but there is hope. NARCAN, a rescue drug, can be obtained without a prescription and is easily administered in nasal spray form. It works by binding with the same receptors that opioid drugs do, thereby restoring respiratory function that prevents brain damage and death.

NARCAN (naloxone) is available locally at CVS on Main Street. It is sold in packages of two units and costs, at the time of publication, $129.99. CVS will apply insurance to the cost if applicable. The Harris Teeter in Antiquity also carries NARCAN. According to the website, the Harris Teeter in Davidson also carries the drug, but that pharmacy would not share any information.

More help is on the way. Funds distributed from opioid settlement lawsuits will provide Mecklenburg County with $72.7 million over the next 18 years. These funds will be shared with municipalities in the county and used to support treatment, recovery, and life-saving programs. With NARCAN now more readily available, the Davidson Police Department expects to use settlement funds to purchase NARCAN for its officers.

Alongside such measures, the Town of Davidson has initiated a Co-Responder Program by which mental health clinicians will partner with the police to help residents who are in a crisis. You can read more here.

Who should carry NARCAN?  The answer is simple. If you know someone who is addicted to opioids or using drugs, having NARCAN readily available may save that life.

Although the opioid crisis is still ravaging communities everywhere, Narcan has emerged as a powerful tool to reverse the effects of opioids and save lives. Its accessibility and ease of use make it a vital asset in creating healthier communities. It is a symbol of hope.

[I appreciate help from the following people, who were excellent resources for this article: the staff at CVS (Main Street), Police Chief Kimber Davidson, the staff at Harris Teeter Antiquity, Phyl Justus (DPN, RN), Dr. Steve Justus, Fire Chief Ryan Monteith, Dr. Rebecca Montgomery.]

Jennie Clifton

Jennie Clifton, a Concord native, taught high school Latin in Georgia, where she was a Tar Heel in exile until she and her husband Cecil, a Davidson graduate, retired here in 2011. They are now enjoying life at The Pines.

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