By Aaron Emerson
Ah, the good ol’ Narcan debate. If you follow any addiction blogs or websites, you have probably seen the arguments. On one side of the spectrum, Narcan saves lives. On the other, well, Narcan simply enables addicts to keep pushing the limits of more and more opiates, knowing a dose of Naloxone is in the medicine cabinet.
Me? I’m extremely passionate about this topic. Narcan literally saved my life. So when I see people arguing that expanded access to Narcan is just a crutch to enable addicts, I cringe. I take it personal, like my life wasn’t worth saving that frightening, cold night.
It started out as just a regular evening in the life of a heroin addict. You know, some cocaine in the afternoon and a shot of heroin at night to come down. I was in full blown addiction and I didn’t care about anything other than my next fix. But that night turned out to be different; I would instead only care about whether or not I would take my next breath.
After I took that shot of heroin, I immediately knew something was wrong. My heart started beating faster than it had ever beat. I started taking deep breaths, telling myself to calm down and not overthink. But then my heartbeat immediately reversed and I started feeling it slow down rapidly. Within 30 seconds, I was starting to fade in and out of consciousness and I stumbled out of my room to get help.
I came out and begged my mom to call the ambulance. I knew what was happening. The mixture of cocaine and heroin was too much for my system. I started panicking and almost crying. However, even that became a struggle. As I heard my parents begging 911 to send someone ASAP, I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and I passed out against the wall.
Inside, my last thoughts were full of fear. I knew this was it. All of the warnings of overdose and mixing drugs hit me all at the same time. I started begging God to save me. But then I remembered all the misery I was living in and I just gave up, accepting the reality that not existing anymore would be easier. Those were my last thoughts: glad for the pain to finally be over.
I woke up in an ambulance. And instead of waking up thankful to be alive, I immediately felt instant withdrawal. It was the worst withdrawal I had ever experienced in my life, like all of my dope sick episodes combined into one horrid, intense, devastating, painful experience. I was freezing cold, my body was shaking violently, it felt like an army of ants was crawling all over me, my stomach was turned inside out and I felt the most dreadful feeling of my entire life.
The EMT workers made it worse. They treated the experience like a stroll through the local park. And really, it probably was. They deal with overdoses every night. They are probably so far detached from trauma that taking a junkie to the hospital after an overdose is nothing to them. But it made it all the more worse, as my body was throwing itself against the sides of the ambulance, heaving uncontrollably, while they were just sitting there with a cold, plain expression on their face.
So there dispels the myth that opiate addicts have no problem doing too much dope because Narcan is always available. Hell no! Any heroin addict will tell you that Narcan is the LAST thing they want. The instant withdrawal it puts you in is worse than any heroin withdrawal. It is pure misery. I would never, ever want to be hit with a dose of Narcan again. I would actually beg anyone who tried to hit me with it to throw that shit away, because I’d rather take the risk of overdose than ever have to feel that withdrawal again.
The bottom line, though, is that if it wasn’t for that Narcan the Ingham County deputy hit me with that night, I wouldn’t be alive. The doctors at the hospital told me that if the deputy got there a minute or two later I probably wouldn’t have made it. My heart was shutting down. Cocaine is an upper that speeds up heart rate, while heroin is a downer that slows it down. So doing too much of both in the same time frame puts the heart in an almost impossible situation.
The Narcan was able to take the opiates out of my system, which allowed the hospital to monitor my stimulant levels until the cocaine exited my system.
I can not begin to explain how grateful I am for those police officers rushing to my aide. They got there before the ambulance and immediately hit me with Narcan. Legislation passed a few years ago allowed police officers to carry Narcan for those exact situations, because they often get to overdose scenes before EMTs. My parents said the Ingham County deputies treated the situation perfectly. They were courteous to them, showed concern and months later they even followed up to see how I was doing.
I ended up going to jail for a probation violation several months after all that happened. I got called out of my cell for a visit. When I walked out into the jail hallway, there stood an Ingham County deputy. All he said was that he remembered me from visiting my house on several occasions and heard I was in jail, waiting to go to rehab. He just wanted to offer encouragement and wish me well in rehab. He gave me his number and said I could call him if I ever needed someone to talk to. I was confused. Why would a random cop want to come visit me in jail? He deals with criminals all day, what was so special about me?
Once he left, the deputy working my jail unit asked me if I knew who he was. I said no, I don’t really remember ever seeing him. She said “he saved your life. He was the officer who Narcan’d you when you overdosed.” I gasped in shock. I was absolutely stunned. I didn’t remember him because I went unconscious before the cops arrived. What shocked me the most was the fact that he didn’t even tell me that he was the one who saved me. He didn’t want to take credit for just doing his job. But to me, he is a hero. He is the reason I am in recovery today, happier than I’ve ever been.
As I’m sitting out in my living room watching the Tigers, my daughter is at the kitchen table coloring, talking to herself like a seven year old. I am content. I am at peace. I just got a job in Mason and I am 83 days sober. I’m a good father today. I can’t help but think about that deputy, stopping to visit me at the jail. The guy who saved my life and didn’t even want to take credit. How courageous, gracious and humble. A true hero.
That is the story of how a widely debated drug, Naloxone, also called Narcan, saved my life. It is also the story of how expanded access to the drug and a heroic cop allowed a hopeless heroin addict to get his life together and build a new one. Yeah, Narcan enables addicts. It enables addicts to fucking live.