This weekend was a nice, long, holiday weekend. Along with that comes plenty of picnics and gatherings. Sometimes these get gatherings include adult beverages which tend to lead to loose lips and true feelings being voiced. This can be good and this can also be bad.
Somehow at one of our stops this weekend the topic of the availability of Narcan and Epipens came up. Both of these medications are used to save lives. Both of these medications could mean a person lives or dies. Neither of these medications will stop the sufferer from ever having the need for them again. Several party goers were very concerned that Narcan is affordable and readily available. Many EMTs, social workers, and law enforcement officers carry the medication which didn’t seem to sit well with the group. They argued that the Epipen should be low cost and easy to get while Narcan didn’t need to be. They almost seemed offended by the current availability/cost of these two drugs. My questions were:
Why do we have to pick one or the other?
Why can’t BOTH medications be affordable and readily available?
Why are addicts lower class and less important than those who have an allergy?
Shouldn’t everyone be equally important?
I decided to keep my mouth shut during this conversation. I didn’t feel that this was the time or place to discuss this. I was pretty tired, it was pretty late, and people were pretty tipsy. I didn’t feel like anyone would understand my point of view. I was pretty upset about the whole thing when we left the party. Everyone there knows my brother’s struggle. Why have they all decided that he isn’t as important as someone with an allergy?
How do we stop the stigma that drug users are bad people?
The stigma associated with addiction is that it was a choice, the person wants to be doing it, and that they are bad. How do we change that? Does your perception of addiction only change if you are closely affected by it? Can you only understand this when you see it first hand with someone you care about?
Addicts are people who made a bad choice that spiraled out of control. I have never met someone who wanted to become addicted to something.
No addict wants to use. Heroin changes how your brain works. They need to use. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to one day, in the depths of an addiction, to decide to stop using and get help. I cannot imagine how bad it has to be to decide that. To have a sound mind enough to make that decision and then to get the required help is asking a lot. The fact that anyone ever makes it to rehab is amazing. There is nothing I can compare it to because I am not an addict. I can’t imagine any decision for yourself that could be harder.
Addicts are not bad. They are stuck in a bad situation that most likely is getting worse by the day. No one can make them stop, they have to decide that on their own. It doesn’t mean they are bad people. It means they are being controlled by something that they can’t stop.
Addiction is a disease, not a choice. Allergies aren’t a choice either. Why does one sufferer become more important than another? People who suffer from allergies and might need an Epipen aren’t perfect. What if a “good” addict and a “bad” allergy sufferer needed medication to save their life? How do you decide who gets it? When did it become a choice and when did someone become more important than someone else?
I felt so sad hearing several people put a whole group of people down, make them unimportant, and generally say they didn’t deserve life saving medication. If my brother falls back into his addiction (he is currently 80 days sober) I would want him to be administered Narcan if he needed it. I would want him to have another chance. Coming back from an overdose with Narcan could be the rock bottom he needed to hit before getting his life on track. It isn’t a fix all solution. If you are administered Narcan you have a higher rate of overdosing again if you use soon after receiving the medication. You no longer feel the effects of Heroin so you end us using again but in reality the Heroin is still in your system. Narcan basically brings you back to reality. You still need medical help to detox and hopefully recover.
It shouldn’t matter why you need it, anyone should be able to receive life saving medication. The Epipen should be made more affordable. It shouldn’t cost $800. That isn’t fair. Narcan shouldn’t cost that much either. If everyone’s life mattered as much as everyone else’s they would both be free or very low cost. The lesson I learned from this conversation is that more people need to become educated on addiction.
On a side note a few nights later most of the same people were at another party and this topic came up again, in a different way. Someone who felt very strongly that EMTs didn’t need to carry Narcan asked me how my brother was doing. I gave the hopeful update, that he is currently sober and working very hard on it. Everyone was happy to hear this. I left that night thinking what if he had needed Narcan to get to this point? Would they still feel happy for him? Would they feel upset that someone may have been carrying Narcan instead of an Epipen?