Study details stigmas, unfamiliarity with overdose-averting medication

· 3 min read

Study details stigmas, unfamiliarity with overdose-averting medication

Pocket Science: Exploring the 'What,' 'So what' and 'Now what' of Husker research
Survey data has revealed the beliefs and knowledge gaps that are stifling adoption of naloxone, a medication that can counteract opioid-induced overdoses in mere minutes.

Welcome to Pocket Science: a glimpse at recent research from Husker scientists and engineers. For those who want to quickly learn the “What,” “So what” and “Now what” of Husker research.


Of the 70,000-plus Americans who died of a drug overdose in 2019, more than two-thirds overdosed on opioids, the class of drugs that includes heroin but also fentanyl and other prescription drugs. Fatal drug overdoses have only increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, jumping nearly 30% from April 2020 to April 2021.

But opioid overdoses can be counteracted by administering naloxone, a medication that takes effect in mere minutes. Providing a take-home version of naloxone to opioid users and those who may witness overdoses has emerged as a vital approach to stemming the crisis of opioid-related deaths.

Unfortunately, stigmas against substance use and some political resistance to take-home naloxone have slowed the medication’s adoption in many communities.

So what?

To better understand the factors that can stifle adoption of take-home naloxone, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Allison Schlosser and Husker researchers Rick Bevins and Patrick Habecker analyzed data from the 2020 Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey.

Of the 1,712 respondents:

  • One-quarter believed that substance use disorder is strictly a choice, and that stopping is a matter of willpower. Nearly two-thirds said people who use drugs are blameworthy.
  • Almost one-third said they were unfamiliar with naloxone. Just 15% reported knowing where to obtain the medication, with only 22% knowing how to administer it.
  • Nearly one-quarter believed that access to naloxone would increase opioid use among people already using them.
  • About 6% reported knowing someone who uses opioids without a prescription.

Now what?

Educating and providing take-home naloxone to that 6% — especially men and older adults, who reported less knowledge of naloxone — could help prevent opioid-related deaths, the researchers said.

Campaigns that portray people who use opioids in a more sympathetic light, while also drawing parallels between take-home naloxone and medications such as insulin, might boost support for naloxone, the team said.

Naloxone is available for free at multiple Nebraska pharmacies through a program sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. For more information on preventing overdoses and finding a participating pharmacy, click here.

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