KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Metro Drug Coalition shared some of the numbers behind a lifesaving tool on the streets. The drug awareness and prevention organization distributed 16,004 Narcan kits in 2022, one of the highest number of distributions on record. That's nearly 43 kits handed out every day, upon request.
This comes at a time the Federal Drug Administration is contemplating making the life-saving overdose drug available over the counter. Some people on the front lines of the overdose epidemic think it's a good idea. Other people may disagree.
Naloxone has a lot of power. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose.
"It will open up the airway for an individual to breathe for about 30 to 90 minutes," said Jessica Stanley, a regional overdose prevention specialist with the Metro Drug Coalition.
When someone overdoses, they can die in just a few hours. That's why Stanley says Naloxone accessibility is important.
"I think I might be a little biased because Narcan saved my own life. So, I don't think that Narcan could be available enough," Stanley said.
An off-duty firefighter saved her life. It was her third overdose, and also her last.
"That was the moment that opened my eyes and that one was very different for me," she said.
In 2022, Knoxville firefighters administered Narcan 585 times. Emergency medical workers administered Narcan 1,786 times.
In addition to that, at least 491 people died by suspected overdoses in Knox County in 2022, according to the District Attorney's suspected overdose dashboard.
"Overdose calls are a daily occurrence for us. We respond once a shift if not once a rotation," said Andy Link, a firefighter for KFD.
With drugs getting more potent, sometimes it takes a few doses of Narcan to help people back to consciousness.
"It used to be where 2 milligrams would be enough. Now we're having to give two doses, and sometimes it will even take three," Link said.
The FDA is considering putting the life-saving drug on store shelves. However, Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen said she believed there was potential for the decision to "encourage" drug users.
"The more readily available you have Narcan to everybody, I'd be afraid there might be something in that that could encourage more use thinking you have a safety net there," Allen said. "Narcan does not save you every time."
Link also said she could understand arguments against the decision.
"I can see it being where people keep it and have it as a safety net," Link said. "It could be like a crutch."
That's the question MDC gets asked the most, too.
"People ask, is this enabling someone? What do we do? Should we keep doing this? The stance that we have is that Narcan is not enabling anything but breathing," Standley said. "We can't have individuals move into recovery if they're not alive."
The MDC suggests the number of overdoses across the community goes dramatically underreported. For example, many people won't call 911 for fear of getting into legal trouble.