News outlets nationwide are reporting on “Narcan Parties” and “Lazarus Parties” where drug users purportedly get together and intentionally overdose on heroin or opioids knowing that they’ll be revived with Naloxone, the overdose reversal agent. Most of these stories quote first responders who are frustrated with the patients who are revived multiple times and are wondering aloud whether the widespread distribution of Narcan is fueling heroin use. None of the articles, of course, quote actual drug users or addiction treatment professionals and when pressed, even first responders can’t cite specific examples where they’ve personally seen the phenomenon.
Here’s what you should know about Narcan Parties:
- They aren’t real. Just as urban legend had it that large groups of kids raided their parent’s medicine cabinets, dumped handfuls of pills into a bowl and consumed them randomly at so-called “Skittle Parties,” Narcan parties were invented by frustrated first responders and well-meaning adults trying to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem.
- Young people are using in groups, sometimes in public because that’s what we’ve told them to do. Using heroin or opioids alone hidden away in your bedroom before going to sleep has produced tens of thousands of overdose fatalities.
- Sometimes Narcan is placed right out in plain view as these young people are injecting heroin together. We’ve told them to do that, too, just as we’ve educated them about the signs and symptoms of overdose, the importance of calling for help and yes, the life-saving benefits of Naloxone.
- Nobody wants to experience the “rush of being revived.” Suffice it to say that being hit with Naloxone and sent headlong into acute withdrawal isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Imagine the worst flu you’ve ever experienced and then multiply it by a factor of ten with fevers, chills, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting. Sounds like one big party; right?
- Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a brain disease and as such, tends to be inherently irrational. People don’t use more heroin because naloxone is within reach and they don’t use less heroin when they are without the opioid reversal agent.
The “Narcan Party” myth only fuels the stigma associated with addiction and is being used as an argument for rolling back Naloxone distribution – a drug that has helped save hundreds of thousands of lives nationwide. Narcan doesn’t cure substance use disorders any more than CPR cures heart disease. Some folks may have to be revived and rescued more than once.
Quite frankly, that’s an argument for more treatment, not less Naloxone.