Justice

Police Are Spreading a Dangerous Rumor About 'Narcan Parties'

Not everyone thinks we should expand access to naloxone, an anti-overdose medication that reverses the effects of opioids. Some believe that giving addicts the life-saving resource simply encourages reckless drug use and reinforces a cycle of addiction.

drug-needle

Studies don't bear out that argument, however. It's an idea based on assumptions, anecdotes, and rumors—such as a recent story about opioid addicts throwing "Narcan parties" (Narcan is a brand name for naloxone).

Over the past few months, authorities in a handful of states have promoted misleading claims about alleged misuse of naloxone. Local media reports have warned that addicts bring naloxone to parties so they can consume greater amounts of opioids, relying—it is alleged—on other attendees to revive them in the event of an overdose.

Prescription Pills

The Outline published a report this week that traces the origin of the rumor, claiming there is an "astounding lack of evidence" that Narcan parties even exist.

Experts in addiction and harm reduction widely dismissed the reported parties as unverified nonsense, the report notes, yet local officials, police officers, and at least one Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent based in Utah have all insisted that they are real and dangerous.

narcan

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, told ATTN: that he hadn't heard about Narcan parties and doubted reports that they were happening at an alarming rate, if at all. For individuals who are dependent on opioids, naloxone causes the body to enter into "severe acute opioid withdrawls," an excruciating process marked by "agonizing pain and discomfort and pure anxiety."

"It's so awful that, in the context of opioid withdrawals, physically it won't kill you—but there are people who commit suicide they feel so awful when they're revived," Kolodny said. "To me, it's just silly the notion that someone would take a greater risk because their friend is nearby with naloxone. That doesn't happen."

Part of the problem with rumors like Narcan parties is that it can perpetuate misconceptions about naloxone at a time when the rescue medication is in greater demand.

Harm reduction advocates don't see naloxone as the solution to the opioid epidemic, but it's a valuable tool that can save lives amid rising rates of abuse.

A 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at what happened between 1996 and 2015 when average people outside of the health profession were given naloxone kits. Researchers disbursed about 152,000 of the kits; over the course of almost 20 years, the kits were used to reverse about 27,000 opioid overdoses.

Is naloxone a cure-all? Absolutely not. But studies have made clear that expanding access to naloxone means fewer people dying of overdoses—not more opioid-fueled parties.