In April of 2021, the Nebraska Pharmacist Association partnered with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Service to make Naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, accessible throughout Omaha. Naloxone is a drug typically administered through nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by preventing the opioids from binding with receptors in the brain.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center has funded this program with $90,000, 100% of which has gone toward making Narcan accessible to the public. The drug can currently be found at Kobalt Pharmacy as well as Kohl’s Pharmacy and is free of charge.
The opioid crisis has been a growing epidemic here in Omaha for as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, kids regularly experimented with pain pills from wisdom teeth surgery or found in their parents’ medicine cabinet. They would make concoctions of alcohol or alcohol and cough syrup, something that has recently become increasingly popular.
Recently, an exceptionally dangerous opioid known as Fentanyl has been circulating through Omaha. Fentanyl is not a new creation, and it is used medicinally in hospitals, but as of late it has become a common way to dilute drugs. Dealers will combine the deadly Fentanyl with other drugs, most commonly with cocaine or pressed into pills, to make a larger profit. Even in small doses, the drug is life threatening. Over the last month, Douglas County alone has seen a dozen deaths and upwards of 20 hospitalizations due to Fentanyl overdoses.
The intention behind providing the community with access to Naloxone is to lower the number of drug-related deaths. The fact that it is free makes it available to people regardless of socioeconomic status, and because a prescription is not needed, those with no insurance or no primary doctor are more likely to seek it out.
Growing up in Omaha, it was never a secret that drugs were prevalent in our community. The first time I was introduced to an opioid, I was only 14 years old. It had become a recent trend for kids at my high school to drink copious amounts of cough syrup to reach a euphoric state. Most of us assumed that since we could walk into a convenience store and buy it ourselves, it meant that it was safe to abuse.
In less than a year of being introduced to opioids, I saw someone overdose. It was another night of uneducated 14-year-olds drinking Robitussin in one of our parents’ basements. We were all inebriated, but conscious enough to notice that one of our friends was starting to look faint. Her eyes soon rolled back, and we knew something was seriously wrong. It was a miracle that we had enough sense to grab her parents, who immediately rushed her off to the emergency room.
Grievously, many teenagers do not seek help because they fear the repercussions. These situations often lead to devastation, but there is a possibility many of these could be avoided with access to proper care and education. Creating a safe space for individuals, including minors, to access Narcan without a prescription or purchase makes it more likely for those fearing consequences to seek help.
Lower income populations are also more vulnerable to suffer from addiction, especially those that are cheap and easy to come by, like various synthetic opioids. These people are also likely to be amongst those who are uninsured, making access to health care or treatment a challenge.
Access to Naloxone in Omaha is going to save lives in our community. Nebraska has a long way to go in terms of effective drug education, but this decision could help save the lives of people across the metropolitan area. It provides citizens with a free and discrete tool to help combat overdoses.