A growing problem in my community, and the nation, right now is heroin use. We are in the midst of a heroin epidemic, and last month my home county released to the public their preliminary report from the task force. I have seen a lot of opinions on social media critiquing their proposed interventions, specifically the use of Naloxone, or NarCan, by some police departments. (Montgomery County Overdose Task Force). NarCan is a drug which can be used to stop an opioid over-dose. (Harm Reduction Coalition 2015) Community members have latched on to this aspect of the task-forces report, and some believe it may increase the epidemic because heroin users may feel safer knowing there is a drug available to them to prevent an overdose.
After reading through the preliminary report, I think it is more apparent that other factors in this epidemic are being addressed. In the introduction, the task force identifies a precipitating factor for the rise in heroin overdoses as being abuse of legally prescribed medications. The task force states that “In many cases the patient becomes addicted to these legally prescribed narcotics. Unable to obtain more of the prescribed medicine, they then turn to illicit opioids, namely Heroin, which is cheaper, easier to obtain, and far more likely to cause overdose and death.” (Montgomery County Overdose Task Force 2015). A precipitating factor is one that triggers a problem, as opposed to a perpetuating factor, which is one that sustains it (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts 2012). The task force clearly addresses these precipitating factors. They are implementing an awareness campaign to educate the public of the fact that abuse of prescription pain killers may lead to heroin use. The task-force also suggests implementing a drug take-back program. This program provides residents a secure way to dispose of left over pain killers which have the potential for abuse. The goal here is to again address the precipitating factor of the availability of prescription drugs for abuse to lead to heroin usage.
The task force also addresses a perpetuating factor in overdoses. Specifically, the task force wants to publicize new laws which are aimed at increasing the reports of drug overdoses and decreasing response time (Montgomery County Overdose Task Force 2015). The new Pennsylvania law, according to the task force, gives amnesty to other drug users who attempt to get help for someone who is overdosing.
So while some people may be caught up on the idea that NarCan may increase usage of the drug, I think it is a good support to the program, and this has by no means been a complete list of the report, but rather a discussion of several factors. The county is not merely putting a bandage on the problem, it addressing real factors which have an impact on drug problem in our community with a thorough intervention plan, which include evaluation to address the need to be flexible and for unintended consequences.
Montgomery County Overdose Task Force. Preliminary Report. 2015. Retrieved from
Harm Reduction Coalition. Understanding Naloxone. 2015. Retrieved from
Schneider, Gruman and Coutts. 2012. Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and
Addressing Social and Practical Problems. 2nd Edition.