A Historical Perspective of Naloxone Access and Distribution, a Harm Reduction Approach

Kailash Sundaram


This paper focuses on one particular harm reduction approach, naloxone access and distribution. The paper highlights the history of naloxone, beginning with its invention in the 1960s, and frames the antidote in the context of academic research. The paper shows that naloxone has always been viewed as a drug of great promise - from reversing propoxyphene overdoses to screening for addiction at methadone clinics - but that it did not widely appear in public health literature and discourse until the mid-1990s, with the rise of prescription opioids and the re-emergence of heroin. The paper covers the passage of naloxone access laws and the implementation of take-home programs but argues that both have failed to make as large of an impact as policymakers might have expected due to resistance from physicians and the general public, who fear enabling drug use and exhausting federal and local resources through the harm reduction approach. In telling the story of naloxone, the paper broadly aims to show that the drug follows the trajectory of many other public health initiatives - academic research and policy never perfectly translate into practice. The paper brings to light interesting questions about who bears responsibility for drug use, our responsibility to others within our community, and how we define effectiveness in terms of a solution.