Narcan debate: Saves lives or enables addicts?

Three Tri-Staters take a stand
Posted at 8:52 AM, Aug 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-28 03:28:56-04

COVINGTON, Ky. - Jason Merrick is clear about which side he's on in the Narcan debate.

"It absolutely is a lifesaver. No doubt about it," he says.

"Does it enable someone? Yes. It enables someone to live another day to hopefully get into recovery and live a happy life."

Merrick is the director of addiction services at the Kenton County Detention Center, which houses a lot of heroin  addicts.

Like himself.

 "I'm not afraid and I'm not shamed to admit that I am a person in long-term recovery from this crippling and potentially fatal disease," Merrick says.

Merrick never was revived by Narcan, but many of the inmates he counsels were.

We hear about hundreds of Narcan doses being used this week to revive addicts  during the spike in overdoses here. It's costly and controversial.

Here's the debate:

People like Merrick say Narcan is a lifesaver -- the best chance addicts have to live another day and get into treatment.

Others say it's just an enabler -- people use heroin, overdose, are revived with Narcan and repeat the cycle.

Sasha Pozdnaykov, an inmate at the Kenton County Detention Center, sides with Merrick.

"I had a bad addiction and I just couldn't learn my mistakes and I kept doing it over and over again," Pozdnaykov said.

He admits overdosing twice and being revived once with Narcan.

"Narcan saved my life because I almost died," he said.

"I think it's good because it can bring people back to life. It gives people a chance to live again," he said.

 You might expect a police chief to take the other side. But Chief Tom Synan, head of the Hamilton County Heroin Task Force, is not one of them.

"I think Narcan is the only option we have right now.  It's about keeping people alive," Synan said.

"Do we let people die?  No other segment of my job do people even suggest that we should let people die. 

 "I've been on calls with people who have multiple DUIs and have been in auto accidents.  Society didn't tell me or the police officers to let that person die.  I've been on multiple runs with the same person on attempted suicides and society didn't tell me to let them die.  In fact, they told me and other officers we should risk our lives to save their life. That's what our job is. Our job is to save lives.

"When it comes to Narcan, this is a non-issue.  People can debate addiction, disease.  People can debate if it enables or doesn't enable. To me, this is about saving lives."

Still,  Synan says he and other law enforcers are frustrated that all they can do is revive overdosed users with Narcan and turn them loose.

He wants to do more.

 "Why can't there be something enacted that says we can't walk away from that person that just overdosed?" Synan said.

"If someone committed technically a felony by using a drug, technically, we can take them to jail, but we   know the jail is crowded.  Why can't we take them in front of a treatment facility?"

That would require a change in the law.

We reached out to a number of state legislators for comment on that idea, but no one has responded.

One interesting note about the Kenton County Detention Center: they will train anyone how to get and use Narcan.

SEE more of our special "Heroin in the Tri-State" coverage.