ABC 6 News Investigates: Possible Hidden Risks with Life-Saving Drug Narcan

February 07, 2018 10:44 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- As the opioid crisis continues to plague our nation, millions of dollars are being used to find solutions. 

One of those solutions is providing the opioid reversing drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, to everyone. However, some are worried a piece of the solution could create another problem.


"It's alright though dude, God's timing is perfect because if I would've left in November, I don't know if I would have made it," said Jordan, a recovering drug addict.

It's a change for Jordan to be dealing the cards in a game of Spades.  That's because fifteen months ago he was dealt a dangerous hand.

"I wanted to deal with the pain, I couldn't handle it anymore, so I just turned back to what I know," Jordan said.

After the death of his best friend to a drug overdose, the 24-year-old fell back into the world of drugs, overdosing on heroin.  "The addiction is strong and powerful and it's always calling," he said. 

Narcan was used to save his life.  According to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 27,000 lives have been saved by the opioid-reversing drug.

"Naloxone - or Narcan - is a well-recognized long-standing anecdotal treatment, and it's actually one of the few that is truly effective and lifesaving," Dr. Matthew Sztajnkrycer said.

Sztajnkrycer is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Mayo Clinic.  He is in charge of training first responders how to administer naloxone in the field.

He says the opioid crisis is far from over.  "We had a system that highly emphasized pain management as a vital sign," he said, "You think you're doing the right thing, but it turns out that it has downstream side effects that no one ever expected."

In talking about the current situation he said, "there's going to be an entire generation of people that are going to have to go through rehab."

Last July the CDC, awarded more than $12 million to 23 states to combat the opioid epidemic.  Minnesota was among them.  As part of the state funding, southeast Minnesota received more than 24,000 doses of naloxone.

A recent state law is also making it easier for anyone to get Narcan for themselves or a loved one without a prescription at pharmacies across the state like Hunt's Pharmacy in Rochester.

But can this life-saving drug, have unintended side effects?

When asked, Sztajnkrycer said while there is no scientific evidence, "there is anecdotal data that suggest a small portion of users will actually push the envelope and use more drugs if they know there is a rescue available."

A concern first responders share including Rochester Police.  Officer Steve Osborne has responded to hundreds of opioid overdoses, once administering Narcan to a patient during a medical call.

"I was the first one on scene. I was probably 30 seconds away from the place when the call came in, I gave Narcan and within 20 to 30 seconds the patient came back to almost normal," Osborne said.

However, Osborne said Narcan can be a double-edged sword.

"What we're dealing with is people aren't dying as much. They have the drug available, they're able to save a life, they're able to save a friends life, maybe somebody is able to save their life," Osborne said. "If they're saved every time, I think that would form some sort of confidence or invincibility for them that they can do the drug and know they're going to be saved so what are the risks?"

For drug users, that mentality exists.

"I've personally been to needle exchanges where they just give you the Narcan so people are a lot more careless," said Jordan.  "If you're with someone with Narcan -- then caution to the wind."

"For some people, it's becoming a norm for them.  They're used to police showing up and administering Narcan so it's going to create a false safety net and continue to use, maybe even more, knowing someone is going to help them,"  Osborne said.

Even so, Osborne said the benefits of saving a life will always outweigh anything else. "Our job is to serve and protect and if we can get there and save someone's life that's what's expected of us."

A life, like Jordan's, who graduated recently from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in Rochester.

He shares his message with other recovering drug addicts.  "I believe that there is a really good use for Narcan, I really wish that my best friend a year ago could have made it to the doctor and they could've given him the Narcan."

"The way to manage the current epidemic is going to be preventing future users," Sztajnkrycer said.

These days, Jordan likes his odds.

"I believe completely there's only one way to stop opioid addiction specifically, and that is you need to stop and ask for help," Jordan said.

Holding in his hands, an ace of spades and a much brighter future.

"It may seem like you're so far away from what you see or want in life, but there is a way to get there," he said.

Jordan is enrolled full time at Rochester Community and Technical College and has a job.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction,  you can find information for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, which is now serving both men and women, by clicking here.


Laura Lee

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