• Action News Jax Investigates: Users mixing overdose reversal drug with opioids

    By: Michael Yoshida, Action News Jax


    Narcan: Some people call it a miracle drug. Others say it just enables drug abusers.

    It's been used thousands of times by Jacksonville firefighters to help save overdose victims.

    Action News Jax has learned drug users are getting their hands on the drug to try to self-medicate.

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    Firefighters and doctors say that’s because they’ve seen the powerful effects Narcan has to reverse an opioid overdose. During a yearlong stretch between June 2016 and June 2017, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department administered more than 3,600 doses of Narcan.

    “It truly is a miracle drug, it really is … within usually 5 to 10 seconds they will start breathing and start talking,” JFRD Capt. William Langley said.

    A life-saver that some firefighters and doctors say drug users are now trying to get their hands on.

    “We actually even have heroin users ... they have asked us, the one that's not overdosed, 'Hey, can I have some of that just in case?'” Langley said.

    "It’s very common," said Dr. Marcus De Carvalho, medical director at Beaches Recovery.

    “I’ve heard from many clients, especially here in Jacksonville, that drug dealers are actually selling heroin or opioids with Narcan and that’s not to save their lives. It’s actually to just bring them back to continue to buy more heroin,” De Carvalho said.

    This week in St. Johns County, deputies found Donna Smallwood slumped over her car’s steering wheel. Reports show Smallwood admitted to taking meth. When deputies arrested her, they found two Narcan nasal sprays. According to deputies, Smallwood said the Narcan had been mailed to her but couldn’t provide a prescription.

    “These are individuals who are begging for help and this is a brain disease. Obviously they don’t want to be asking for Narcan to save their lives, but they’re stuck and they need treatment,” De Carvalho said.

    Action News Jax reached out to the manufacturer of Narcan to see how people can get it. First responders can order it in bulk, but for others, the regulations vary by state, with some allowing people to buy it without a personalized prescription.

    “It does need to be regulated in that it’s not getting in the wrong hands. And so some oversight does need to take place,” De Carvalho said.

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    Using the manufacturer's website, Action News Jax checked the rules in Florida and according to the website, “Residents can purchase NARCAN® Nasal Spray without a prescription, directly from a pharmacist.” Still, it’s a tool De Carvalho said is needed but does require more regulation.

    De Carvalho said he doesn’t believe Narcan increases the amount of opioid drug use. He said the majority of people who are using Narcan to save their lives are beyond the stages of addiction to just get high.

    To give you an idea of just how much Narcan is being used and prescribed, the drug was released in February 2016. Since then, retail prescriptions of naloxone products have gone from about 1,100 a week to around 6,900. 

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