NewsCovering Colorado


Looking beyond the life-saving drug Narcan; study calls it safety net

Examining the potential risks of Narcan
Potential risks of life-saving drugs for those struggling with addiction
Posted at 6:31 PM, Aug 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-23 00:00:23-04

SOUTHERN COLORADO — 2017 was a record setting year for the Rocky Mountain State, but as the Colorado Health Institute reports, it was not a good thing. Over 1,000 people died from drug overdoses, and more than half of those were because of opioids.

News 5 took a closer look at the life-saving drug Narcan, and it's generic form Naloxone, which have the power to save those dying from an opioid overdose. However, one study from professors at Texas A&M and the University of Wisconsin published in the Social Science Research Network, calls Narcan a moral hazard. A moral hazard is a lack of incentive to guard against risks, because the person knows they are protected from the consequences. Essentially, it could encourage riskier behaviors within those struggling with addiction, because they know they can be brought back to life.

Two people living in Pueblo and struggling with addiction agreed to tell us about what they have seen while living on the streets, but wished to keep their identities anonymous. "Come with me for a day and I will show you that there is complete disregard for life, all because that they know, they can use that Narcan and come back," said one of the people we spoke with, who we met through the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association.

The two News 5 met with agree with the study, and said they have seen those struggling with addiction act more recklessly because of Narcan. They said, "I mean I've met a couple people that just do a full shot, a full syringe, full of drugs. And like normally, nobody in their right mind would do that, but because they know, 'oh I've got the Narcan right here in my back pocket guys, just so you know' they do it."

However, Ryan Ramos, a coach at Addict 2 Athlete in Pueblo, said he has been revived from an opioid overdose three times, and he disagreed with the study. He said the Narcan would have never impacted how much he was using. "To be completely honest, I didn't care about being revived, at that point death was a relief, I was looking forward to it," said Ramos. Ramos has now been clean for three years, and he attributes the reason for his change to his daughter being born.

According to the El Paso County Coroner's Report, opioid deaths decreased from 2017 to 2018 when looking at El Paso County and 19 other surrounding counties. The Coroner's Report also noted there was an uptick in deaths due to Fentanyl.

Kathy Hernandez helps those struggling with addiction through her job at AspenPointe. She has administered Narcan to someone overdosing in a grocery store, and told us that once the Narcan is given, those overdosing go into a withdrawal. "Those struggling with opioids, they're well aware that that's, you know, what's going to happen, and they don't want that feeling at all," said Hernandez. She said it's the addiction that emboldens risk taking, not safety nets.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department reported that 4% of their calls in 2018 were related to drug or alcohol overdoses. Last year, they administered over 500 doses of Narcan. Every time CSFD gives out Narcan is not necessarily an opioid overdose, but Medical Lieutenant Don Watkins said he has seen some repeat calls for Narcan. However, that does not change how those with the fire department respond to a call. "We might have seen them once, we might have seen them three times, we might have seen them 20 times, ultimately our job is to go in and see what the patient is presenting like and then treat them accordingly," said Lt. Watkins.

Those with the Pueblo Police Department said they have only administered Narcan once this year, but there is still evidence of people in the community using it. "Drug users have a little kit and that kit will have all their tools and utensils to utilize taking drugs, and people have you know, Narcan and other substances to assist them if they have an overdose on their drugs," said Sgt. Frank Ortega.

The life-saving drugs can be bought at many pharmacies, and can be given nasally or intravenously. Many of the people we spoke with in this piece said they always have it with them regardless of their opinion on the study, just in case.