Does Narcan Actually Make the Opioid Problem Worse?

Narcan saves lives in the short run, but a new study suggests that widespread Narcan availability also increases risky behavior and may have caused a statistical increase in the overall opioid mortality rate.

The study by professors at the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin looks at what has happened as states have gradually adopted laws making Narcan widely available, controlling for numerous other factors. The authors find that Narcan keeps addicts alive but doesn’t change their behavior, and in fact seems to encourage riskier behavior as well as property crime associated with drug-seeking.

In the Midwest, Narcan access laws have resulted in a 14 percent increase in opioid-related deaths, the study concludes (and an 84 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths).

Overall, “[w]e find that broadening Naloxone access led to more opioid-related emergency room visits and more opioid-related theft, with no reduction in opioid-related mortality,” the authors conclude.

“Our findings do not necessarily imply that we should stop making Naloxone available to individuals suffering from opioid addiction, or those who are at risk of overdose. They do imply that the public health community should acknowledge and prepare for the behavioral effects we find here. Our results show that broad Naloxone access may be limited in its ability to reduce the epidemic’s death toll because not only does it not address the root causes of addiction, but it may exacerbate them.”

Click here to read the study.