Naloxone (sold under the brandname Narcan) is known as the “anti-overdose drug” because it quickly reverses the effects of opioids. Recognizing this injectable medication can save thousands of lives, legislators from Utah agreed to distribute free naloxone kits in an attempt to stem the state’s opioid crisis. Sounds like a good plan, right? Not so fast…
In a truly bizarre turn of events, law enforcement officials in Utah are now confiscating the syringes included with these naloxone kits, claiming they’re “drug paraphernalia.” Sadly, it’s come to a point where the persistent negative stigma associated with substance abuse can prevent the use of a life-saving medication like naloxone.
Police Impede Delivery of Narcan
Since naloxone is used to reverse opioid overdoses, more states and municipalities are making its distribution legal, even providing kits at the government’s expense.
The Utah Department of Health, for example, has distributed nearly 2,000 injectable naloxone kits throughout the state. Since this form of naloxone must be delivered by injection, clean syringes are essential for use. Yet the police, long directed to seize needles as part of drug raids, are taking the syringes from kits legally obtained, leaving people with no way to utilize the life-saving drug.
Both government officials and law enforcement leaders are shocked by this trend. According to an article in the Desert Post Utah, Attorney General Sean Reyes says, “This kit isn’t a drug-paraphernalia kit. This kit is a lifesaving kit that we need to make sure we get into the hands of as many people as possible.”
According to Utah’s Medical Director, Jennifer Plumb, law enforcement officers who carry naloxone are advocates for its use. However, the head of the Utah Police Chief’s Association, Tom Ross, expresses a different opinion. “When an officer’s doing a drug investigation, they’re collecting needles. Sometimes it may not be clearly understood – what is treatment and what is drug abuse or use.”
Medical Director Plumb reports a rapid rise in syringe confiscation since fall. In fact, back in October, she received five reports of confiscations within 48 hours.
Misinformation Or Stigma?
A lack of knowledge among police may account for some of the confiscations, but stigma also plays a large part. The Director of One Voice Recovery, Patrick Rezac, explains, “It just feels like a punitive, sort of targeted response toward substance abusers. There’s no other reason to take a life-saving tool from somebody.”
What caused this unfortunate situation? Is it a lack of information? Is it confusion about the legality of naloxone and the syringes required to administer it? Or is it stigma? Law enforcement officers see the tragic overdose deaths caused by opioids, along with the wreckage inflicted on families and communities. In this case, a lack of information and understanding could be the difference between life and death for those who desperately need naloxone.
The crisis in Utah could be a symptom of the nation’s slow-moving shift from seeing substance abuse as a criminal behavior to a medical problem requiring compassionate treatment. While no one would think of confiscating the insulin syringes of a diabetic, the same standard doesn’t seem to apply to people who use drugs.
Additional Reading: Jail vs Treatment – Law Enforcement Summit Seeks Solutions
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