How vital could Narcan prove to be in America's fight against fentanyl?

Even within sight of Capitol Hill, fentanyl is taking its toll on Americans. ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers met some of those who use the drug.

For years a game-changing nasal spray called Narcan has saved thousands of lives in the United States. It can bring addicts who’ve overdosed on opioids back from the edge of death, with a couple of squirts up the nose.

Now it is being made available over the counter in America, without a prescription, as policy makers struggle to deal with the impact of the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

We went to a tough area of Washington DC to see if we could find any addicts who’d benefited from Narcan. We didn’t have to look far.

The first person we talked to in a car park frequented by drug addicts at the back of a fast food restaurant, knew all about the emergency treatment. Monique had been revived herself by it, and knew many others who had been saved. 1500 people die from opioid overdoses in the US each week. Monique would have been another statistic without the life-saving drug.

Nearby, I meet Sandy, who is disarmingly frank about her habit. She used to spend $500 a day on fentanyl, funded by prostitution. She claims to have personally saved five people within an hour using Narcan.

'It is an amazing tool': Caryl Siems' son Josh died on his 31st birthday, after an overdose. She wants Narcan to be as widely available as possible.

These streets are the scene of a daily drama in America’s battle with a drug epidemic which shows no sign of ending.

But it isn’t just the urban poor affected by this scourge.

Josh Siems came from a well-off, middle class family. He attended a good school, a top college and went on to complete a post-graduate course. Yet he spiralled into fentanyl addiction and was saved by Narcan twice. The third time he overdosed, there was no one present to administer the nasal spray and he slipped into a coma.

He was pronounced dead on his 31st birthday.

Josh's parents Caryl and Bob remain admirably strong in the wake of such loss. His girlfriend Melanie Yates told me how traumatic his death was on her and the rest of his family and friends. I spoke to them exactly six months to the day since he died.

They want to get out the message that fentanyl can rob anyone of their life. It’s an equal opportunity killer. Old or young, rich or poor, it can form a potent addiction. Josh battled it for years, his family’s nerves frayed from endless vigils to ensure he stayed alive. They are clear that Narcan gave them a few extra months with him. They want the life-saving medicine to flood the streets in the same way the drug has.

'We should give Narcan away for free: Melanie Yates - whose boyfriend Josh died after an overdose - has campaigned for fentanyl testing in hospital drugs screenings.

For addicts to have a chance, Narcan needs to be within reach every time they inject, snort or smoke. Making it available over the counter is a step in the right direction, but to really reach those who need it most, experts like Dr Edwin Chapman think it needs to be free.

At his medical practice, he sees plenty of fentanyl addicts. He says most don’t even have a dollar in their pocket and if they do, they spend any cash they have on the next hit. He is convinced that to change the alarming trajectory on the graph of fentanyl deaths on his computer, Narcan must be free and widely available. 

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