Deciding who lives, who dies?


Despite the clearly epidemic status of opioid abuse in this nation, there is a growing backlash against efforts among emergency workers and school officials to combat the tragic problem with life-saving resources.

Opioids are opium-like drugs that most often are used legally to reduce pain. But the good can come at a steep price. The power of prescriptions such as oxycodone and fentanyl is that, like their cousin heroin, they can block pain receptors.

That’s also what makes them so attractive to drug abusers. They quickly produce feelings of warmth and euphoria that leave illicit users craving more and more.

That’s how they kill.

In right doses, opioids depress, or slow, a person’s breathing. In large enough amounts or mixed with other compounds, these drugs can cause respiratory arrest.

Each day in the United States, more than 44 people die for this reason. These are children, parents, even grandparents.

Heroin is certainly the most household name among these drugs. Perhaps that is a large part of the reason some people are opposed to allowing emergency medical technicians and school nurses, among others, to administer Narcan. It is the brand name for the drug naloxone and it can immediately reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The problem is greater than heroin, though. Although that particular drug was popular in the 1960s and 1970s among the most hardcore of drug users, it has become so easily available and commonplace that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says its use among teens has grown by 80 percent in the past decade.

Still, prescription opioids are quickly surpassing heroin. Nationwide, almost half of the record-setting number of opioid deaths involved drugs other than heroin.

Those frightening numbers have prompted a lot of states to allow or, in some cases require, naloxone in ambulances and schools offices.

Detractors see it as condoning and even glorifying a lifestyle of addiction.

It’s hard to grasp that there are people who would try to categorize lives that are important and those that don’t deserve to be saved. Yet, that’s exactly what they are doing.

First, such logic oversimplifies the addiction problem. This is not a choice for many. It is not like lacking the willpower to turn down a second helping of pie. It is not glorifying drug use to stop someone from dying, although opponents believe it will cause drug users to engage in riskier behaviour because they will know they can be treated quickly.

Critics argue that there are some addicts who will go right back to their dangerous lifestyle. There are. Just as there are people who will light up another cigarette after being treated for pneumonia or will hit the fast-food drive-through after being “zapped” back to life with a defibrillator.

Would it not be just as fair to deny lifesaving measures to all of those with whose life choices we disagree?

Hardly.

Spend an hour with a wife watching her husband descend deeper into the hell of drug abuse.

Walk with a father as he carries the casket of his teenage daughter to the gravesite following an overdose.

Explain the thinking to a child who has to grow up without a parent because of a mistake they made.

Then tell them — the friends, families and loved ones of the 50,000-plus people who will die this year from overdoses — why it wasn’t worth doing anything possible to keep them alive.