Praise for surgeon general's advisory on opioid antidote
The overdose reversal drug naloxone twice saved the life of Carmen Capozzi's son, Sage.
If it had been available a third time — on March 5, 2012, at a Hempfield motel — Sage could have had the opportunity at recovery.
Six years after his son's death, Capozzi welcomed the surgeon general's advisory Thursday urging more people to carry the drug, commonly called by its brand name, Narcan. No surgeon general has released an advisory in more than a decade. The last came 13 years ago, warning pregnant women against alcohol use.
“Amen to that,” Capozzi of Irwin said of the advisory. “Everyone should carry it, like a fire extinguisher. We have an epidemic in this country.”
Prompted by his son's death, Capozzi formed Sage's Army, a drug addiction and overdose awareness organization that operates throughout Westmoreland County.
Speaking at the Prescription Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, the surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, addressed those who think overdose victims will “go on and misuse again,” according to CNN.
“Well, that would be like me saying, ‘I'm not gonna go do surgery on this trauma patient because they're just gonna go out and speed again,'” Adams said.
Capozzi — as well as medical experts across the region — agreed, noting that one can only begin the process of recovery if they're alive.
“Narcan is the first step in getting somebody out of a crisis and trying to get them into rehab and get them help,” Capozzi said.
Adams gave similar sentiments in his remarks.
“No mother should have to bury their child,” he said. “Especially not when there's a life-saving medication that virtually anyone can access.”
Dr. Neil Capretto, director of Gateway Rehab with locations across Southwestern Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio, agreed.
“Zero percent of dead people recover,” he said. “As long as there is life, there's hope.”
Capretto, a Vandergrift native, said there is no evidence that an overdose-reversal will make an individual less likely to seek treatment.
“I know many people having great, wonderful lives in recovery who are thankful that someone had Narcan available when it was needed,” he said. “These are human beings.”
While naloxone has been on the market for decades and it has become a staple for first responders, it took the exploding opioid epidemic for Pennsylvania to issue a standing prescription order, meaning pharmacies can sell it without a prescription.
Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC, said he is encouraged that Adams came out strong in favor of lay people carrying naloxone.
“It really could be the difference between life and death,” Lynch said. “It's certainly not a cure for the opioid epidemic, but it can be one solution to have on the path to recovery.”
Dr. Mitchell West, medical director for addiction medicine at Allegheny Health Network, concurred: “If you don't give them Narcan and they die, they never get a chance to get into recovery.”
Though in favor of Adams's advisory, he said he worries that higher exposure will mean higher prices.
“My fear is that companies, with the increased publicity, will incrementally raise prices for Narcan,” West said.
Allegheny County Health Department officials have been at the forefront of naloxone initiatives for the past several years. Dr. Karen Hacker, the director, said the surgeon general's advisory should be met with enthusiasm.
“Ultimately, the surgeon general has a bully pulpit,” she said. “This is an opportunity as a leader to support these initiatives. From our perspective, we agree with this wholeheartedly.”
Megan Guza and Ben Schmitt are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Guza at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib. Reach Schmitt at 412-320-7991, email@example.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.