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Mom Wants Overdose Reversal Drug Available To Families of Addicts
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The number of people dying from heroin overdoses in Ohio has increased exponentially. Looking for ways to save lives, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow an addict’s family or friends to administer a drug that can halt an overdose.
Some medical experts worry expanding the drug’s availability could cause other problems. WOSU talks with a mom who says she could have saved her son.
Theresa Stock, of Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland, tried to help her 25-year-old son beat heroin. Last summer, after a stint in rehab, Randy Stock moved in with his parents.
The day he arrived, Randy relapsed and overdosed. He had battled a year-long heroin addiction.
“He was supposed to be taking a shower. And he hadn’t come out,” she recalled.
When Theresa got to her son he was unconscious.
The breathing, the breathing is what he needed. I mean, he was just blue.
She could not save him. A few weeks later, Theresa learned about a drug, Narcan, which could have. The drug can reverse a heroin overdose within minutes.
“We literally were just watching him die. We didn’t know what to do,” Stock said. “Had we had Narcan we could have used the Narcan on him. At that point, myself, we didn’t know what Narcan was.”
What is Narcan?
Narcan is the brand name for naloxone. It sends someone overdosing on heroin or synthetic opioids into immediate withdrawals and restores breathing.
Narcan has been around for decades, and Theresa Stock is now trying to get it into the hands of family and friends of addicts.
And Ohio lawmakers are considering that right now. A bill, House Bill 170, would allow doctors to prescribe naloxone to family members or friends of someone at high-risk for an opiate overdose. Currently, only addicts can get the drug.
“Realistically, it’s the loved ones that need it. They need to have it on hand when they know that their family member has an addiction to opiates like that, they have to have it,” Stock said.
The debate comes as Ohio tries to keep up with a changing drug epidemic.
First prescription pain meds were the problem. So authorities cracked down on pill mills. And they created a database to track prescription pain medication.
Increase in abuse
As it became tougher to get pain meds, some addicts turned to heroin. Now heroin overdoses are skyrocketing, OD’s in Franklin County have more than doubled since 2010. The county saw 73 deaths in 2012.
“The last thing I remember is kind of cooking the heroin, or getting it ready, and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital,” Myles Dawson, 25, of Marysville, recalled.
Dawson came close to being a statistic. Three-and-a-half years ago Dawson relapsed following treatment for heroin addiction. Naloxone reversed both of his overdoses.
“Narcan’s definitely a miracle drug. It will definitely save lives and change lives,” he said.
Columbus Fire Captain Anthony Brooks won’t argue. The 20-year veteran has seen Narcan saves lives. In just the past two months, the department’s medics have administered naloxone more than 212 times. That’s about 5 times a day.
But Brooks worries about giving Narcan to lay people. While it’s easy to administer – through the nose or by an auto-injector like an EpiPen – he said it can wear off before the heroin does. And Brooks said that’s dangerous.
“And he’s right back in respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, overdose, death. That’s why we would like to have it in the hands of the medical professionals,” Brooks said. “I do see value to have it available, but I just can’t rationalize having it available without the caveat of having 9-1-1 involved.”
The proposed legislation does not require family or friends to call 9-1-1, it only suggests it.
The bill, “Authorizes a physician or other health care professional who is authorized to prescribe drugs to personally furnish naloxone or issue a prescription for the drug to a friend, family member, or other individual in a position to provide assistance to an individual who there is reason to believe is at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose.”
Ohio State doctor Eric Cortez, who works with Columbus Fire, said the drug can have adverse effects: high blood pressure, fast heart rate, breathing problems and uncontrollable agitation which can cause a patient to aspirate vomit.
“The policymakers have to keep in mind most of the time it’s not a harmful drug and it saves lives. But there is a small percentage of the time that there are negative side effects,” Cortez said.
And Captain Brooks worries widespread availability of naloxone could lead to increased heroin use.
“We don’t want Narcan out on the street because it may enable people to think, ‘Oh, it’s OK to take heroin because I have the antidote right here.’”
But Theresa Stock, whose son Randy died from heroin overdose, said that won’t happen.
“Nobody wants that. Nobody wants it because it sends them into immediate withdrawal. And nobody wants to have that feeling. It’s not an excuse. That’s not an excuse. That’s not going to happen. It could’ve saved him.”
The Ohio House approved Narcan distribution to family in October. The Senate is now considering it, but no date has been set for a vote.