KNOXVILLE (WATE) – East Tennessee is dealing with a major drug problem, but not illegal drugs, like marijuana or cocaine. The problem is prescription drugs typically found in your bathroom cabinet.
Many times, it’s kids who are taking them and using them, sometimes by the handfuls. There’s a counter drug out there called Naloxone and some people think you should have it at home.
Nancy Daniels always has Naloxone with her.
“Well, I carry it all of the time,” said Daniels.
It’s a temporary antidote for an opioid overdose caused from painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone or heroin. She carries one around because almost losing a loved one hit close to home.
“It just never crossed my radar that she could be using drugs,” said Daniels.
For two years, Daniels saw her daughter destroy herself, battling a prescription drug addiction.
“I thought she was dying. I didn’t know that she was an addict. She just got really thin. She was living with another abusive boyfriend by then and I would see her at Walmart and she was so thin and I knew it was bad,” said Daniels.
It was so bad her daughter needed professional help to get clean. A few years later, she watched one of her best friends die from an overdose of prescription medications. Daniels wishes Naloxone was available.
“She would have lived,” said Daniels.
Dr. Martha Buchanan with the Knox County Health Department said it’s too easy for kids to get prescription drugs.
“They get them from their friends when their friends aren’t looking, or their grandma from the medicine cabinet, or they buy them on the street from mechanisms like a doctor, from some friends or from a dealer,” she said.
Because they come from a doctor, she said many times kids think they’re safe and host a “Skittles” or “trail mix party” where different pills are poured into a bowl.
Related story: State: 1,263 Tennesseans died from opioid overdoses in 2014
Numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health show there’s been a steady increase each year of overdose deaths in the state of Tennessee from 2011 to 2014. Last year alone, there were more than 1,250 deaths.
You can only get Naloxone without a prescription at CVS, but Dr. Buchanan is working with Kroger to have it available without a prescription in all their Knox County pharmacies, hopefully at the start of the new year.
“Our idea is if anybody is coming in and getting a prescription for an opiate for more than 30 days, or is chronically on an opiate from medication from their doctor, or maybe they know someone who might be at risk for overdose and they meet that criteria, they can get Naloxone from Kroger once we get all the ducks in order,” said Dr. Buchanan.
Proving its effectiveness as a temporary antidote, officers with the Knoxville Police Department started carrying it just two months ago.
“It’s a battle of seconds when you come upon someone who has overdosing, so the officers having that available to them on the scene immediately. We’ve seen four saves now in our community. We’ve had it for about five weeks; that’s pretty amazing,” said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.
Even if it’s given to someone who doesn’t need it, doctors said it doesn’t have a negative effect on the body.The question is if more lives be saved if everyone had Naloxone like they do Tylenol or Advil. Nancy Daniels certainly thinks so.
“If you see those lips turning blue, somebody barely breathing, you may not know that it’s an opioid overdose, but it doesn’t hurt to give it to them and it may be the difference of them living or not,” said Daniels.
Naloxone at CVS, in either an injectable or nasal applicator, is estimated to cost $20 to $50, and depending on the supply, you may have to order it and wait a couple of days for them to get it in.
Some critics claim having wide access to Naloxone could encourage risky drug use by giving them a way to “fix” an overdose.