Police departments and media outlets across the country have reported that some heroin users are pushing their limits because they think naloxone will save their lives if they overdose. Some reports of “Narcan parties” or “Lazarus parties” indicate that users want to feel the experience of being brought back from the dead.
Most news stories feature police officers who say people who use heroin are taking advantage of the drug, and drug dealers are gaming the system. Some dealers are reportedly selling Narcan with heroin to avoid homicide charges.
These reports call Narcan parties a growing trend and a misuse of the life-saving medication. Naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes.
Dr. Samuel A. Ball, President and CEO of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, told DrugRehab.com there was no proof that Narcan increased the chances of someone continuing to use opioids.
“Reports of so-called ‘Narcan parties’ are another example of the media sensationalizing unusual events surrounding drug addiction in a way that doesn’t help or protect people,” Ball said in a statement. “This media reporting adds to the stigma of addiction and diminishes the importance of a medicine that has saved thousands of lives.”
Allison Walsh of Advanced Recovery Systems agreed. The vice president of business development and branding said that intake specialists at ARS’s rehab centers hadn’t heard of clients participating in Narcan parties. ARS operates rehab facilities across the country.
Users on Reddit have also been critical of the media reports. Many questioned why a person would waste money on heroin if they were planning to reverse the effects of the drug.
“Who wants to intentionally overdose themselves only to be brought back straight into withdrawal and a state of absolute terror,” asked a Reddit user with the top comment on a Narcan party post.
Other Reddit users who said they used heroin wrote that access to Narcan makes them more likely to push boundaries. There have also been media reports of gatherings where one person stays sober while others use so the sober person can use Narcan if someone overdoses. However, no one has publicly admitted to intentionally overdosing on heroin to see what it feels like to be “Narcanned.”
In a July 2017 investigation, a writer for The Outline followed up on numerous media reports of Narcan parties. None of the law enforcement officials who described Narcan parties in media reports could provide first-hand evidence that Narcan parties actually occurred.
“The benefits of widely available Narcan greatly outweigh the risks of its use, which addiction experts strongly agree are negligible,” Ball said. “No one dies because they have used Narcan, but 33,000 Americans died last year because their opioid overdose did not receive medical attention.”
Since the opioid epidemic began, access to naloxone has dramatically increased across the country. The greater availability of the overdose antidote has been praised as one of the few public health victories in the battle against the opioid epidemic.
A 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that naloxone access laws decreased the number of opioid-related deaths by as much as 11 percent. That would amount to 3,500 lives saved every year, according to Vox.
It was one of the first studies to analyze the national impact of naloxone access. Communities had reported similar results for years.
One Denver man is known as the “naloxone ninja.” He’s saved 91 people with naloxone since 2010, according to the Denver Post. Denver’s Good Samaritan law protects against drug possession charges in cases where people call 911 to report an overdose.
The National Bureau of Economic Research study found that the impact of Good Samaritan laws on reducing opioid-related deaths was “of comparable magnitude” to naloxone access laws. However, some people are more likely to call a friend with naloxone than 911, according to the Denver Post.
The study also concluded that “neither naloxone access laws nor good Samaritan laws increase the recreational use of prescription painkillers.” Still, some people wonder if reports of Narcan parties will sway policymakers away from increasing access to the life-saving drug.
“Narcan parties are rare in comparison to the countless lives saved,” Ball said. “The existence of these very unusual parties should have absolutely no effect on public policy or the initiatives underway in most states to significantly expand access to Narcan and its delivery by lay persons.”