Aug. 21 (UPI) -- The widespread distribution of a common anti-opioid drug could save lives and money, a new study says.
When police, firefighters, emergency service workers or laypeople who were likely to witness an overdose had access to naloxone, deaths from opioid overdoses fell by 21 percent, according to research published Monday in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The study suggests saving these lives would help reduce costs throughout society.
"Before this, there hadn't been research on the cost-effectiveness of equipping first responder groups with naloxone, and how that compares to equipping laypeople," study first author Tarlise Townsend, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said in a news release.
As a way to help push down the opioid overdose numbers, the researchers launched this study in 2016. They reached out to other experts who regularly work on issues related to opioid overdose. They examined the costs that deaths would have on the criminal justice, healthcare systems and the overall loss of work productivity.
"Some laypeople who witness an overdose hesitate to call 911, for fear of the consequences. So no matter how many first responders have naloxone, those victims can't benefit from it," co-author Freida Blostein, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said in a news release.
The study shows that even giving naloxone to average people can cut societal costs. Some politicians have worried that giving the drug to people could create a false sense of security, which could increase opioid use.
The researchers acknowledged the rising cost of naloxone and the increase in overdose deaths from synthetic opioids that can't be treated by naloxone may reduce the drug's cost-effectiveness.
Still, the researchers are confident the strategy of widespread naloxone distribution would help curb the national problem of opioid overdose deaths.
"We need to ensure more people can receive naloxone when they overdose," Townsend said. "Our findings support high distribution of naloxone to laypeople, police and firefighters, and EMS as a way of making this happen. Naloxone distribution is cost-effective -- and it is saving lives."