WWAY INVESTIGATION: Is Narcan helping or hurting opioid epidemic?


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Opioid abuse is a growing problem across the nation and Wilmington is at the top of the list.

According to Castlight Health, a health care company in California, Wilmington is the worst city in the country for opioid overdoses. Now the Cape Fear is using Narcan, a drug designed to bring people back to life, more than ever.

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It is being called an epidemic and WWAY investigates whether or not Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is helping or hurting the crisis.

North Carolina HARM Reduction Coalition Executive Director Robert Childs says more than 700 people died in 2015 across the state from an opioid overdose.

According to Castlight Health, nearly 12 percent of people in Wilmington abuse opioids, which has prompted an increase in Narcan use.

In November of 2016 one family’s life changed forever.

“A two-year-old was killed by somebody using an opioid. Passed out and ran into the back of a car. Just a horrible situation,” Wilmington Police Deputy Chief, Mitch Cunningham said.

The man charged in the child’s death had reportedly been revived four separate times by Narcan.

“Currently we have saved people’s lives 50 times since our introduction of Naloxone program back in March of 2016,” Cunningham said.

It saves lives, but is it enabling more harm than good? That is the question Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous is facing head on.

“If they’re out there and we’re hitting them with Naloxone. And they don’t want to get treatment. They’re a danger to themselves and they should be involuntary committed into some sort of custody. To try to get some sort of detox going on. Some sort of help,” Chief Evangelous said.

Community leaders are working together to get this crisis under control.

“We have seen a consistent trend of there being more overdoses per year. The good thing is we’re able to reverse a lot more overdoses in the field now since our agency equipped local law enforcement with Naloxone,” Childs said.

The NC Harm Reduction Coalition provides police departments across the Cape Fear Region with Naloxone courtesy of a grant.

“Right now we have spent not a dime by the tax payers on this. And that’s the direction I intend to go,” Cunningham said.

As for emergency responders they receive Naloxone through the New Hanover Regional Hospital’s pharmaceutical budget. Capt. Steven Howell says in the past six months alone, they have used Naloxone nearly 400 times.

“An addict is going to use. We know that. Not giving them Narcan we’re just increasing the chance of them dying. And as a health care provider I swore an oath to take care of people. So for me it helps. Because without it I probably couldn’t save some of those people’s lives,” Howell said.

Deputy Chief Cunningham agrees but questions what happens after you save their life.

“It’s doing what it needs to do. But in some ways it’s now exposed another problem. Which it’s not enough just to save their lives. It’s equally or maybe even more important to get them into some kind of long term treatment,” Cunningham said.

Michael Page knows first hand how difficult it is to get help. He was revived three separate times by Narcan.

“There’s a lot of people in the community that would say you know. Once you’ve used Narcan once forget about them. It’s a wasted cause. Or Narcan enables people they know they can use. I would say that we don’t have a right to judge. We never know who’s going to turn their life around make a difference. And if it wasn’t for those multiple reversals I wouldn’t be here,” Page said.

Today Page would not be a father, a brother, or an advocate to get others the help they need.

“If I had overdosed and not been brought back. I wouldn’t have a life today. So Naloxne kept me alive until I was ready to make that change.”

It is a drug designed to bring people back to life in hopes of a brighter future. Now the challenge is getting addicts to take advantage of tomorrow.

Childs says in the last year they have used Narcan 1,400 times and about 5,600 community members have used the drug on their loved ones.

For more information on statistics and how to get help, click here.