Opioid overdose prevention programs (OOPPs) are organized, community-centered efforts designed to decrease the chances that people who abuse opioid narcotic drugs or medications will die of an overdose. These programs have gained increasing popularity across the U.S., partly in response to the fairly common abuse of prescription opioids and rising rates for heroin use. In a study review published in June 2014 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, researchers from the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine used a large-scale analysis to assess the effectiveness of OOPPs in preventing narcotics overdoses. These researchers concluded that opioid overdose prevention programs typically work well when their members receive proper training.
In addition to reducing pain perception and triggering sharply heightened pleasure levels, all opioid drugs and medications significantly slow the rate of interaction between nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord (i.e., the central nervous system). Opioid overdoses occur when nerve cell interaction in the brain and spinal cord falls below sustainable levels and the body subsequently starts to lose function in critical organs. Potential symptoms of such an overdose include decreased responsiveness to outside stimuli, narrowing of the pupils, unusual sleepiness, unconsciousness, unusually shallow or sporadic breathing and breathing cessation.
Doctors and emergency personnel can stop an overdose if they reach an affected individual in time. One of the most important tools in opioid overdose reversal is a medication called naloxone, which rapidly terminates opioids’ ability to produce a drug effect inside the brain and body. Unfortunately, in real-world circumstances, opioid abuse often occurs far from any easy access to medical resources. As a result, significant numbers of people who experience serious opioid overdoses die without receiving effective care. This situation is worsened by the fact that witnesses of opioid overdoses are also often opioid abusers; these individuals commonly fear exposing their own drug use by reporting the overdoses they observe, and therefore don’t seek emergency assistance.
Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs
Opioid overdose prevention programs teach opioid users/abusers and the friends and family of opioid users/abusers how to help anyone who has consumed too much of an opioid drug or medication and may be experiencing an overdose. These programs started to appear roughly 20 years ago and have become increasingly common over the intervening decades. Some OOPPs provide their members with doses of naloxone and teach them how to administer the medication safely to overdosing opioid users. However, most U.S. states have laws that forbid people without medical licenses or advanced emergency training from administering the medication. In April 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration drafted new rules that increase naloxone access for people other than doctors and emergency personnel.
Are OOPPs Effective?
In the study review published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the University of Cincinnati researchers analyzed the results of 19 previous studies designed to gauge the effectiveness of opioid overdose prevention programs in stopping people from dying from opioid overdoses. All of the 19 studies under consideration looked at OOPPs that trained their members in overdose prevention, recognition of overdose symptoms and the safe use of naloxone for overdose reversal. These programs also typically provided their members with naloxone kits intended for rapid use. Fourteen out of the 19 studies provided detailed information on the people enrolled in opioid overdose prevention programs. Almost 50 percent of these individuals had experienced an opioid overdose; in addition, roughly four out five had seen someone experience an overdose.
Eighteen of the 19 studies under review provided information on individual episodes of naloxone use by members of OOPPs. In 11 of these studies, all of the people who received the medication survived their overdoses. In the remaining seven studies, the minimum rate of survival was 83 percent, while the maximum rate was 96 percent. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the use of naloxone by well-trained, non-medical personnel in opioid overdose prevention programs can substantially reduce the number of people in the U.S. who die after taking an opioid drug or medication. In addition, they concluded that the training provided by OOPPs improves their members’ understanding of how to recognize the risk factors for an opioid overdose and prevent such overdoses from occurring in the first place.
The study review’s authors note that most of the people who administered naloxone as part of an opioid overdose prevention program were also opioid users/abusers. They point out the fact that OOPPs members still sometimes make mistakes after receiving appropriate training. In addition, the training they receive apparently does not increase the likelihood that they will call emergency personnel to the scene of an opioid overdose.