Over the years, addiction treatment has improved its ability to know which forms of medication can help a person wean off their addiction. For instance, benzodiazepines have also been very effective in treating alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The risk with Benzodiazepines, however, is that they are highly addictive and have severe withdrawal symptoms. And for this reason, researchers are exploring other forms of treatment for the alcohol withdrawal process. The benefit to benzodiazepines is that if a recovering addict can take them as prescribed, they usually don’t experience the risk of addiction and instead, the medication greatly facilitates their alcohol detox process. However, if an addiction does develop, the withdrawal process from Benzodiazepines can be severe.
When it comes to heroin addiction, new drugs are coming to light that can not only facilitate the withdrawal process, but it can actually save someone’s life during an overdose episode. When used on someone experiencing an overdose, this medicine temporarily blocks the opiate effects, allowing a person to breathe again – long enough for the paramedics to arrive. Essentially, Naloxone is known as an antagonist, meaning that it binds to opioid receptors more strongly than the drugs themselves without activating those receptors. This action is precisely what reverses an overdose and saves lives.
The typical signs of someone overdosing on heroin include:
–Loss of consciousness
–Low blood pressure
–Constriction of pupils
In fact, the drug has been used for decades among paramedics as well as within the drug community, and it has saved thousands of lives. Paramedics use the drug to reverse respiratory failure in those individuals who have overdosed on opiates such as pain pills or heroin. And in 1996, Naloxone became available to the public through a Chicago-based organization who wanted people to use the drug when they or their loved ones were at risk for opiate overdose. Many lives were saved, allowing individuals to then attend drug addiction treatment as well as a sober living program. Because of the success of the Chicago-based program 28 states have followed their example. Of course, once lives are saved, those individuals can then go on to treatment, such as residential substance abuse treatment and sober living programs.
This alone is a significant benefit of the use of Naloxone – saving lives so that individuals can get treatment and ultimately live happy and successful lives. However, it’s also important to know that Naloxone is safe, legal, and it’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There is no potential for abuse and it does not have any significant side effects. However, because its only function is the neutralization of opiates, it cannot be used to save lives from other types of overdoses.
Heroin, a drug typically taken illicitly, is an opiate, synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Opioids can be injected or inhaled by snorting or sniffing or smoking it. Opioids are also the main activating drug found in painkillers, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, diphenoxylate, morphine, codeine, and methadone. The abuse of prescription painkillers has reached epidemic proportions in America. Close to half of the nation’s 38,329 drug overdose deaths in 2010 involved painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These narcotics now kill more adults than heroin and cocaine combined.
Yet, fortunately, in a life-death situation, the emergency drug Naloxone aids in saving lives right on the spot. In fact, because this drug has been widely successful, there have been progressive laws passed that allows drug users themselves to possess and be trained in the use of the drug. Up until recently, paramedic personnel, nurses, and doctors were the only professionals who used the drug. Similar to the Chicago program described above, more and more communities are making the drug more available, including to users and their families.
Naloxone offers people the opportunity to turn their lives around. What could have been the moment of death for some people turns into a chance to live again – free of a heroin addiction.
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