The difference between life and death is often just a matter of minutes. The ODbox aims to erase that difference. For good.
The numbers have become commonplace. But that doesn't make them any less alarming. Or tragic. Over 115 opioid overdose deaths a day. Every day. Throughout the United States. People OD from OxyContin. People OD from heroin. And people OD from fentanyl. In their wake are they millions who don't OD. Those who instead lead a sort of half life. Daily struggling to shake one of the deadliest diseases in history.
The misuse of and addiction to opioids has become the nation's #1 crisis. The crisis of all crisis, say the experts. The epidemic of all epidemics. It's tearing apart families. It's tearing apart friendships. And it's tearing apart the country itself. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion per year. That includes the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.
The personal toll is incalculable.
The opioid crisis began in the late 1990s. That's when pharmaceutical companies started a concerted campaign to convince the medical community that they'd come up with a safer new strain of pain relievers. OxyContin was the star. And Purdue Pharma was the starmaker. And healthcare providers were persuaded to prescribe the drug at astronomical rates. Eventually, Purdue's claims about the less addictive aspects of OxyContin were revealed to be a sham. But not before the company had made billions upon billions of dollars off the drug. And not before millions upon millions of Americans had become inextricably addicted.
The more people took the drug, the more they needed to take. Ever higher doses meant even greater risk. Opioids slowed breathing. Decreased heart rates. Increased the likelihood of overdose. Yet Purdue Pharma kept plugging away. Insisting their operatives write every more prescriptions. No matter how many people got addicted. Regardless of how many people overdosed and died. There was too much money at stake to do otherwise.
Government agencies did offer some solutions. One is to limit the volume of opioid products that can be prescribed to specific population patients (e.g. those with limited previous exposure to opioid products) or indications (e.g. initial fills for acute pain or injury). This prescribing practice is known as a "fill limit." And it is intended to reduce inappropriate exposure to opioid products both for the patient and for other members of their household.
Healthcare agencies also launched community outreach efforts designed to inform and educate the public about the dangers of opioid drugs. These efforts included everything from how to properly dispose of legal opioids to when and how to seek addiction treatment. Some outreach efforts also targeted pharmaceutical companies themselves, and offered instructions regarding safe and appropriate prescribing methods, as well as how to best manage patients with possible and/or documented abuse issues.
Then came the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Simply put, naloxone reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. It can be administered by nasal spray (Narcan) or needle (Evzio). And it is frequently carried by emergency medical services. Many local and state governments have pushed measures to make it even more readily accessible to the general public. In fact, Narcan is now available without a prescription in 46 states. Furthermore, the use of naloxone on another person is also protected by the Good Samaritan Act. This way there's no chance that someone administering it on another person would be charged with a drug-related crime.
However, Narcan is still out of reach for many people. Yes, the life-saving drug is slowly becoming available at an increasing number of local community centers around the country. But most folks still must rely upon a pharmacy. That's often cost prohibitive. It's also often inconvenient. Not everyone can afford to buy Narcan. Even fewer people happen to be near a pharmacy when an emergency arises. This limited accessibility prevents naloxone from saving as many lives as possible.
It's absolutely crucial to have Narcan on hand whenever an emergency situation arises. Not just in the hands of first responders and other emergency personnel. But at hand for everyone. Wherever they may be. Whenever they may need it.
That's the big idea behind the ODbox. A portable life-saving package that can be placed wherever drug users are most likely to congregate. Place it on corners near drug hotspots. Put it in the restrooms of bars, restaurants and cafes. Homeless shelters? Check. Rehab facilities? Check. School campuses and community centers? Check and check again. If there's an ODbox wherever an opioid overdose might happen, there'll be much less chance that overdose will be fatal.
The ODbox is much like the overdose prevention kits we wrote about in A Syringe Grows in Greenville. Put into play by Marc Burrows of Challenges Inc, a Harm Reduction Service based in Greenville, South Carolina, and placed in one of the town's highest overdose locations, those kits contain a clean needle as well as a dose of Narcan. Considering how beneficial Burrows' makeshift kits have become to his community, it's easy to see how a concerted packaging and distribution of such an effort would be.
Funding for the production and distribution of the ODbox will of course be an issue. But there are surely a number of private and public concerns who'd be willing to step up to the plate for such a vital endeavor. Especially when the costs of not stepping up are factored into the equation. That's what the ODbox start-up crew is counting on anyway. And with a little help from some enlightened friends in high and pivotal places, the ODbox will become as ubiquitous as fire extinguishers. After all, they could be just as essential to protecting lives.