Narcan: Not Just For Criminal Overdose
As early as the 1960s, the drug, Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, has been widely used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Medical personnel use Narcan to revive patients who have overdosed on opioid-based drugs. In criminal Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases, prosecutors try to use evidence of the revival by Narcan to support a DUI charge. The attempt to use Narcan as evidence of DUI is problematic for many reasons.
To understand the problems with the introduction of Narcan use as evidence, it is important to understand how Narcan works. A person who overdoses on opioid-containing drugs will suffer from an excess of opioids blocking the opioid receptors in the brain, causing the shut down of the body’s nervous and respiratory systems. Narcan, at least temporarily, takes the place of the opioids and prevents respiratory failure, but should be followed up by other medical intervention. More recently, due to Narcan’s simple administration techniques and minimal side effects, many states have approved Narcan administration by lay people who are close to those regularly using or addicted to opioids. Lay people or medical personnel may use Narcan to save the life of a person who recently overdosed, either intentionally or accidentally, on opioids.
Narcan has also long been used to treat shock, including septic shock. When the body is in shock, endogenous opioids, otherwise known as endorphins, are elevated. Medical professionals use Narcan to treat shock patients and to increase blood pressure and allow the cardiovascular system to function normally. Circulatory shock can be caused by stress or other medical conditions, and in the case of sepsis, by bacterial and viral infections. Narcan has been used to treat those suffering from shock and to prevent dangerously low blood pressure and even death.
While it would be easy for prosecutors to prove a DUI case by simply presenting evidence that Narcan had been used on a defendant, there is a problem with the assumptions underlying the introduction of that evidence. First, Narcan is not used to treat only opioid overdose, so usage of Narcan does not and cannot definitively prove that one overdosed on opioids. Passing out from opioid overdose could look similar to the effects of low blood pressure caused by septic shock. Second, Narcan can be administered by persons other than medical personnel, meaning that a professional medical assessment of opioid overdose does not need to be made prior to someone’s administration of Narcan.
With Narcan’s minimal side effects and low risk of injury, a non-medical professional can administer Narcan on someone who never overdosed on opioid drugs. The prejudice that the introduction of the evidence of Narcan could have on a defendant is insurmountably high considering that Narcan could be used to treat someone who never used opioid drugs. Narcan could also mistakenly be administered if a person starts to exhibit signs of overdose, such as pale skin or slowed breathing, while these signs could be an indication of some other medical problem. Without proper assessment or testing by a medical professional, a medical professional or lay person could easily mistake some other medical problem for an opioid overdose. Introduction of Narcan evidence also presents a risk of abuse of the use of Narcan by lay persons to inculpate someone for criminal charge purposes.
To learn more about contesting an OUI drugs cases in Massachusetts visit Attorney DelSignore website or call 781-686-5924
To learn more about Narcan and its medical impact click on WebMD.