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Playing doctor

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When someone is on the verge of death, seconds count.

Dispensing vital medicine to a person experiencing a drug overdose will likely save his or her life. Some health care professionals believe the best way to prepare for this possibility is for individuals to receive proper training and have the antidote ready.

Erin Bortel, prevention director of ACR Health in Watertown, held a news conference Friday to announce a plan to help those who have overdosed on opiates. The firm wants to train residents how to recognize a drug overdose from substances such as heroin or OxyContin and how to administer the reversal drug naloxone hydrochloride, which is marketed as Narcan.

ACR Health would provide overdose prevention rescue kits free of charge, including the antidote. Staff members would also offer 45-minute training workshops to show people how to respond to a drug overdose.

“Many medical professionals already use Narcan to prevent overdoses from becoming fatal, but this program would open the use of Narcan to addicts themselves, their caretakers and other community members,” according to a Saturday story in the Watertown Daily Times. “Narcan blocks the receptors in the brain that respond to opioid-based narcotics, reversing the respiratory depression that can result in death. If Narcan is administered when it actually wasn’t needed, it will just metabolize in the body.”

On the one hand, it sounds reasonable to offer a potentially life-saving antidote to people who know others who abuse opiates. They may be the first ones present if an overdose occurs, and their quick responses could mean the difference between life and death.

But on the other hand, there is something unnerving about encouraging people who are not medical professionals to make a decision on behalf of someone else on when to administer a drug. Can they recognize the difference between an overdose and another medical condition?

Do they know if the person would have an allergic reaction to Narcan? What liability issues would be involved if something went wrong?

Equally distressing is the idea of encouraging addicts to engage in a game of drug-powered Russian roulette by giving them an antidote to their own dire behavior. While drug abuse should not carry a death penalty, neither should we give addicts the belief that there can be no consequences for their actions should they take an overdose.

If ACR Health is going to proceed with this program, staff members must ensure that people who receive these kits understand the correct signs of an overdose and the possible side effects of administering this drug to someone else.

We believe that giving out medicine should be left to those with the sufficient medical training. Be that as it may, it’s imperative that those overseeing this program make sure participants are fully prepared to increase the chances of someone’s survival rather than putting them at further risk.

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