LISTEN TO AUDIO OF THIS CONTENT
There’s been an increasing number of reports across the country of so-called “Narcan parties,” where people use heroin or prescription painkillers without fearing of dying from overdose because Narcan will bring them back.
For the uninformed or uninitiated, Narcan is the brand name of naloxone, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1970.
The life-saving medication, which comes in an injection and nasal spray form, has only recently received nationwide attention because of the opioid epidemic. Emergency room physicians, however, have used it for nearly 50 years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 300,000 people have died as a result of heroin and other opioids since 2000.
Claims of “Narcan parties,” like this one in Rowan County, North Carolina, suggest some of the following:
- “Party goers” get together in cars or public places to use heroin or other opiates with the knowledge that first responders are nearby and will revive them with Narcan if anyone overdoses.
- Sometimes gather in a house together to use heroin, while one person armed with Narcan that’s sold over-the-counter is prepared to administer the drug to anyone that accidentally or on purpose takes too much and passes out.
“Drug users are pushing it too far, overdosing to reach the brink of death in what’s being called a ‘Narcan’ or ‘Lazarus party.’ They’re intentionally trying to find out what it feels like to be brought back to life,” Charlottesville, North Carolina news anchor Allison Latos said in a nightly broadcast.
Similar reports of “Narcan parties” have come out of Pennsylvania, as well as Ohio, where Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County told the Cincinnati Enquirer he believes reviving people who’ve overdosed on heroin sends the wrong message. The sheriff does not allow his deputies to carry Narcan.
“They never carried it,” Butler told the reporter. “Nor will they. That’s my stance.”
Critics say that these “Narcan” or “Lazarus” parties are an urban myth spread by law enforcement and paramedics who are tired of administering the medication to a population they see as hopeless. They point to the fact that there’s little to no evidence these “parties” are real.
“I’ve been asking myself the same question for about a year now,” Bill Stauffer told The Outline when asked where evidence of the “Narcan parties” is. Stauffer, an executive director at Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations, added, “I have not been able to verify a single case of this and I suspect it to be an urban legend.”
Other addiction specialists agree, noting that reversing an opioid overdose with Narcan is not pleasant for a heroin or opioid user. Though the medication revives a user from overdose, they immediately go into a withdrawal that is incredibly uncomfortable and painful.
Even Sheriff Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer that people who are revived “are often violent and are almost never happy to see police.”
A 2016 study by the Society for the Study of Addiction found “…no empirical evidence that to support concern that [take-home Narcan] programs might encourage heroin use.”
If there’s a kernel of truth to “Narcan” parties, writes Tessie Castillo, it’s only that people who use drugs are likely to do it in groups or at parties. “That’s not new,” she writes, “Drug use at parties has been happening long before Narcan became easily accessible. So when first responders arrive at the scene of an overdose, they might see a party and they might see that Narcan was administered to the overdose victim, hence the term ‘Narcan party.'”
Whether or not “Narcan parties” are real or fake, what’s not an urban myth is the dire situation the country faces in solving a drug overdose epidemic that’s killing a staggering 175 people, on average, every single day.