June 10, 2021
Letter to the editor — Congressman supports Narcan distribution
To the editor:
I was disheartened to read in the May 6 article titled, “No Narcan Distribution at Public Sites in Oakland” that not only has Oakland chosen not to participate in public distribution of naloxone, but also that the comments made by local officials demonstrate a misunderstanding of the issue at stake here.
I currently serve as the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s Sixth District, which includes Oakland. I am also a business owner, a father of four, and uncle to a nephew, Ian, who died from a fentanyl overdose in 2016. He was 24.
Naloxone (also known by brand names including Narcan, a nasal spray) is a medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone is generally administered by someone — a first responder, family member, friend, or bystander — who recognizes that an individual has had an overdose. This critical medication is easy to administer, has no effect if someone is not experiencing an overdose, and saves lives.
Before 2011, I had never heard of naloxone, but it quickly became part of my family’s vocabulary as we traveled along a five year path with Ian — of addiction, treatment, periods of hope, and ultimately the heartbreaking call on New Year’s Eve that Ian had lost his battle with addiction. Naloxone had saved Ian once. If he was not alone that day, it might have saved him a second time.
Ian was like a son to me, and this experience changed my life and drove me to become an advocate for mental health and addressing the addiction crisis. In Congress, I co-lead the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, and I use my seat on the Appropriations Committee to steer funding towards mental health and addiction services.
As part of my work, my staff and I attended a training in Hagerstown to certify us to administer naloxone by nasal spray. After the training, a member of my staff saved the life of a young man in her neighborhood by recognizing the signs of an overdose and administering the naloxone she had on hand. Imagine the impact on our communities if we were all given this training.
I have met far too many families like mine who have watched their loved ones suffer from addiction and are desperate to make changes in their community to prevent future deaths. Fatal opioid overdoses were up over 29% from 2019 to 2020 nationwide, and up more than 45% in Western Maryland. This is a crisis that touches everyone — and right now it’s getting worse, not better. One immediate change we can make is to end the stigma that can paralyze those who need help, or who want to provide help.
I firmly believe that naloxone should be made available at every police station, fire station, drug store, and community gathering point. We need family members, friends, and neighbors to feel comfortable and empowered to take action to help those individuals they see struggling — not burdened by extra administrative layers — and the implication that naloxone distribution is shameful or unsafe, and should be hidden behind the doors of a health department. The article pointed to questions about naloxone being a “quick cure” (in my experience, it’s not) and privacy concerns around public pickup sites. Let’s be clear. These are surmountable issues, but a fatal overdose is not.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, the excellent care of my oncological team brought me into remission, but it was the friends and loved ones who said “what can I do to help, I’ll drop everything, what do you need” that gave me strength. Addiction is a disease, not unlike cancer, and we are losing lives to this battle every day. We have a moral duty to our community members to bring conversations about mental health and addiction into the open, and ask “what can we do to help.”
U.S. Rep. David Trone