Naloxone- The antidote that could have saved my friend

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Farhan was an amazing guy and a wonderful friend. We were the backbenchers. He was an integral part of the school cricket and football teams and was into all extra-curricular activities. A chess player in both junior high and high school, he won several championships in various tournaments. Soon, we joined college but lost interest in studies. We were both fascinated by old rock bands, blues, jazz and rock n roll. He joined guitar classes and soon he became a nice guitar player. His house became a jamming room where we used to roll joints and he would play guitar till midnight. Eventually, he dropped out of college because he didn’t like those boring lectures and wanted to start a rock n roll band. Soon he met few like-minded individuals and formed a bond with them. Drug use progressed in no time from lighter to harder stuff. His father had abandoned them when he was very young and his mother was helpless. Before Farhan passed, he was stuck in the vicious cycle of drug use, detoxification, rehabilitation and relapse. He had his whole life ahead of him, but he died at prime age of 22 years.

As a friend, I wish I could have done more to help my best. I helped him get into a number of renowned treatment facilities throughout the city and get detoxed at home. He would go and come back within few weeks. Shortly after returning back, he would speak very positively about life and his future plans. But he could never sustain for long. From sweet coaxing to tough love, none of the ways worked on him. One fine day, I heard he was found by the police in his own house, face down, cold and blue.

That horrific image still haunts me.

How did I miss to tell him about overdose risks? Perhaps I was not aware myself? I know society doesn’t like to talk about drugs, drug users and most importantly overdose, but this is a problem that we can no longer ignore. I wish I had some information at that point of time about overdose, and about naloxone– the opioid overdose antidote. I could have saved him and many more who were very close to my heart. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of drug induced accidental deaths, unreported most of the times. It is a part of a drug user’s lives, an “everyday thing”, stressful and sometimes frightening. Drug overdoses are amendable to interventions. Death from opioid overdose usually occurs over a period of hours, thus allowing time for response.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, including respiratory depression. It is legal to possess with a prescription, inexpensive, and has no psychotropic effects or abuse potential. One way to address overdose related fatality is to expand accessibility and availability of naloxone to ensure that it is not just within the purview of emergency personnel, but can be accessed by drug users or people working within the community who may witness an overdose and therefore have the opportunity to administer the life-saving medicine to save precious lives.

I know at least a dozen of people who lost their lives to drug overdose. I know I’m not alone and there are many like myself who knows someone who is at a risk due to potential overdose. This is the reason why I’m speaking out. I just want to prevent future overdose deaths.

In memory of Farhan and thousand other lost souls.

Sutirtha Dutta is a programme officer for drug use and harm reduction programme at Alliance India.

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