Access to naloxone does not make heroin less risky

Medication naloxone is so effective in saving the lives of opioid overdose victims that some people fear it could lead drug users to believe that heroin and related drugs are no longer risky.

But a new study suggests that’s not the case.

The increased access to naloxone did not lead Americans, even drug addicts, to think heroin was less risky, the results showed.

“It’s really hard to change people’s perception of how risky heroin is,” said Mike Vuolo, co-author of the study and associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

“Even people who use heroin know it’s risky, and access to naloxone hasn’t changed that.”

Vuolo conducted the study with Brian Kelly, professor of sociology at Purdue University. It was published today (October 7, 2021) in the journal Addiction.

Naloxone is a prescription drug that quickly reverses an opioid overdose by restoring normal breathing in an overdose victim whose breathing has slowed or stopped. The drug has no effect on people who do not have opioids in their system, so it is safe to use.

Naloxone is available as a nasal spray, which makes it easy to administer.

The researchers used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted annually by the United States Administration of Addiction and Mental Health Services. They used data from 2004 to 2016, which included 884,800 respondents aged 12 and older.

Participants were asked to rate how risky they thought heroin use was on a 4-point scale ranging from “none” to “high risk”. They were also asked how risky they think regular heroin use is, on the same scale.

Researchers compared people’s responses to naloxone laws in the state and counties where they lived. During the period of this study, most states expanded access to naloxone beyond healthcare professionals to other first responders, patients with pain and, in many cases, to the general public. public.

In 2013, only 8 states had expanded access. As of 2017, however, 47 states had implemented some sort of naloxone access law.

“Expanding naloxone access to the public has given ordinary people a sense of optimism in their ability to counter an opioid overdose should they ever encounter one, especially if they are trained,” Vuolo said.

Some politicians and others have opposed the laws, saying they will make drug addicts no longer fear heroin use, or worse yet, encourage young people to start using it.

But this study found that people’s perceptions of the risks of heroin were similar in all cases, Vuolo said.

Those who lived in places that demanded easy access to naloxone thought heroin was as risky as those who lived in areas that restricted its use. Those who used drugs, including heroin, did not think heroin use was less risky if they lived in areas where access to naloxone was easy. Gender, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity also had no effect.

And the perception of risk of young people did not change according to the laws in which they lived.

“This suggests that naloxone access laws do not encourage young people to try heroin because they think it is less risky,” he said.

Vuolo said fears that access to naloxone could lead to increased drug use reflect related concerns that needle exchange programs – designed to stop the spread of diseases caused by drug users intravenously who share syringes – would do the same.

“There is no evidence that these needle exchange programs lead to increased drug use and our study suggests that access to naloxone will not lead to increased drug use either,” he said. he declares.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to expand access to this life-saving drug. “

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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