Do Drug Addicts Deserve To Die? Ohio City Plans To Refuse Medical Attention After 2nd Overdose

Photo: unsplash / jake young
An Ohio City Plans To Refuse Narcan After An Addict's 2nd Overdose
Buzz, Heartbreak

Because apparently, an addict's life isn't worth it.

In 2016, drug overdoses took the lives of well over 55,000 people in the United States. To put it into perspective, that’s 12,000 more people than suicide, 15,000 more people than motor vehicle deaths, and over three times more people than those who were murdered.

It’s 55,000 friends. 55,000 sons and daughters. 55,000 parents.

55,000 humans.

According to the NY Times, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 — and that’s with access to naloxone (often referenced by its brand name Narcan), a medication that’s used to revive people who’ve overdosed.

However, some cities like Middletown, Ohio are considering implementing a three-strike policy for the use of Narcan on people with addiction. Meaning, if Narcan’s already revived you twice, you’re pretty much SOL if you eventually need a third dose.

Dan Picard, a Middletown city council member, told NBC 4 in Columbus the purpose of the proposed law isn’t an attempt to solve the drug problem, but to save the city money. Between 2016 and thus far in 2017, he says the city’s spent over $40,000 on Narcan.

And it’s true — Narcan is incredibly expensive. Wired reports that when the FDA first approved the medication in 2014, it went for $545. Today? $4,500 — a disgustingly steep price point when the number of overdoses is rising drastically.

Here’s how the proposed law would work: after two overdoses, the person would have to complete community service to make up for the cost of the Narcan. But if they need to be revived a third time, “if the dispatcher determines that the person who’s overdosed is someone who’s been part of the program for two previous overdoses and has not completed the community service and has not cooperated in the program, then we wouldn’t dispatch,” Picard said.

If that sounds like a few city council members deciding that they’re allowed to judge who does and does not deserve to live in order to save some money, well… that’s because it is.

Let’s say the plan wasn’t completely morally corrupt. Would it even work?

According to one addict, (we’ll call him John), who did heroin for the first time at fourteen and has been on and off ever since, probably not. To start with, nobody would do the community service.

“Addicts are too busy trying to get high to worry about community service, especially if the only penalty is if they overdose they might not get naloxone,” he said. Not to mention the fact that “nobody thinks they will overdose.”

Though he says the law “sounds fair in principle, in practice it just won’t work or solve the problem they’re looking to solve.”

Then, of course, you have to take the dispatch process into account. How long would it take to find out the identity of the person who overdosed and cross-reference it with a database of those in the program? When someone’s not breathing, obviously time is crucial — and how much of it would be wasted to decide whether this particular person’s life is worth saving?

I don't want to speak for dispatchers myself, of course. So, I asked one what she thought.

"It's barbaric," said Rose Hewitt, who's been a dispatcher for over 20 years. "That is way too much liability on the dispatcher to make that decision."

She also noted the logistical nightmare of trying to determine whether someone is unconscious for an overdose versus, say, cardiac arrest.

First responders would have to deal with the aftermath of refusing the life-saving treatment as well. When I asked Pat McDevitt, an Atlantic City firefighter whose responded to multiple overdoses in his years at the department, what he thought about the law, he said that even though it’s an “interesting idea,” he would (unsurprisingly) feel “guilty” for intentionally refusing treatment specifically for repeat overdoses.

Addicts are just people with a disease, like someone with heart disease or depression. There’d be outrage if we refused medical attention for someone with heart disease for their third heart attack or someone with depression who attempted suicide twice already, just to save money.

As Hewitt put it, "It's like saying when you get cancer for the third time, you don't get treatment. And I wonder how that councilman would feel if it was his child that had overdosed for a third time and was not given Narcan."

There are other steps governments can (and should) take to curb the opioid epidemic to prevent the NEED for so much Narcan before deciding who does not deserve to live.

Imagine the things we could do if we stopped thinking money was more important than human life?

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