UPDATE: On Tuesday Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg weighed in about the potential ineffectiveness of naloxone when it comes to reviving individuals who have overdosed on the dangerous synthetic opioid, fentanyl.
WATCH | Officials are concerned one specific type of fentanyl could be too powerful for the lifesaving drug given to many overdose patients.
Bringing someone back from the brink of death is a powerful experience. Just ask David, who asked us not to use his last name or show his face. He stepped in to help a friend in college who overdosed on heroin. "One of the scariest things I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life," he told us.
David used naloxone to save his friend. It worked. "You’re just sitting there like, hoping. There’s that split second of 'Is it going to work? Is it going to work?' And he just kinda came back with it."
Naloxone kits like this have been supplied to first responders nationwide. The company that makes the name brand product, Narcan, says it is effective on all opioids and synthetic opioids.
Across the country, police, EMTs and other first responders are now equipped with naloxone to save people who have overdosed. Gary Tuggle, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Philadelphia field office, says drug dealers are even selling it as a safety net with their dope. That's pretty dark.
"It goes to that customer base," Tuggle explained. "Do they want to kill off their customer base? And I would think not. Because at the end of the day they’re in the business to make money, and they can’t do it if they’re killing all their customers.”
Naloxone is a proven antidote to drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers. But when it comes to one specific type of the synthetic drug fentanyl, the antidote may not be as effective.
The DEA points out it's still too early to say if this specific fentanyl analog is resistant to naloxone. There have been no concrete medical findings yet in the U.S. on the issue of resistance, although a very small Swedish study found naloxone did work against fentanyl overdoses in patients.
Anecdotally law enforcement officials in some areas are questioning whether naloxone is a save-all. One Ohio sheriff called the drug “ineffective” after a recent rash of overdoses involving fentanyl in his area.
"It's still good to have just in case. Because you never know how it's going to help."
—David, Student who used naloxone to save a friend