Airlines are among the most recent American institutions to be impacted by the opioid epidemic more significantly than ever before, triggering significant changes.
Delta recently announced plans to carry Narcan on flights after a passenger died of an opiate overdose while in transit. Following the tragedy, most were left wondering if a Narcan dose could have saved a life during the flight.
Delta Airline Passenger Dies from Apparent Opiate Overdose
A passenger on a Delta flight recently turned to Twitter to share experiencing a passenger dying after an opioid overdose. The Delta passenger first wrote on Twitter about the death on July 13th. The flight was traveling from Boston to Los Angeles. The passenger went on to say Delta didn’t have a Narcan kit, and it took as long as 10 minutes for paramedics to arrive.
The passenger, according to the other passenger’s Twitter statements, had a needle in his arm when he passed out in the plane bathroom. She said he was carried out in a body bag, and she went on to urge Delta to put into place harm reduction practices and carry Narcan kits on every flight.
The passenger said the flight attendants tried everything, and there was a passenger who broke the door to get him out, and a doctor on board that also tried to help.
Currently, passenger airlines aren’t required to carry Narcan on board by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, in 2018, the Flight Attendants Association issued a statement in which they came out in favor of adding Narcan to onboard emergency medical kits.
Signs of An Opiate Overdose
The signs of an opiate overdose or opiate overdose symptoms can include:
- Loss of consciousness
- No responsiveness to outside stimuli like loud noises
- Awake, but not able to talk
- Slow, shallow or erratic breathing
- Stopped breathing
- Skin may turn bluish or grayish
- Choking or gurgling sounds
- Limp body
- Pale or clammy face
- Fingernails or lips might turn blue or purplish
- Slow, erratic pulse or no pulse
Delta Decision to Carry Narcan Kits
Narcan is a brand-name drug, and the generic name is naloxone. Narcan nasal spray can be given to someone who is experiencing an opioid overdose to reverse the effects. With a Narcan kit, once the drug is administered it knocks opioid drugs out of receptor sites in the central nervous system. When someone is given Narcan, it can help restore their breathing, which is slowed or stops during an opioid overdose.
Delta couldn’t comment on the specifics of the overdose that occurred aboard their flight because of privacy concerns, but the airline did announce it will start putting Narcan into emergency kits on all flights starting in the fall.
Delta isn’t the only airline making a similar decision. American Airlines said it has Narcan available on 79% of routes, and they have plans to equip the rest of their planes by the end of the year. United Airlines does carry naloxone on its flights as well. The decision on American and United Airlines was likely influenced by the push from the Flight Attendants Association, as well as emerging guidelines urging more Narcan availability.
How to Administer Narcan
The most common way to administer this life-saving drug is with the use of the Narcan spray. The Narcan spray is administered in a similar fashion to Flonase.
Along with Narcan spray, which is usually the preferred method of administration, there is also injectable naloxone. This can require more training to administer, however. The Narcan nasal spray is sprayed up each nostril and repeated after two to five minutes if the person still isn’t conscious. Sometimes multiple doses of Narcan must be administered.
Greater Availability of Narcan Saving Lives
The Narcan drug antidote is becoming more widely available, and it is believed to be very effective in saving lives and reducing deaths from opioid overdoses. In April 2018, the Surgeon General in the United States called for more awareness and availability of naloxone. Naloxone access does help reduce fatal overdoses, but there are still state issues. For example, not all states allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. Many states are working on harm reduction standards to make Narcan more available.
If you are dealing with opioid addiction, or any substance use disorder, treatment is available, and it can work for you. Contact The Recovery Village to find out about the best treatment programs.
Riotta, Chris. “Delta to carry Narcan on planes after passenger ‘carried out in body bag’ following overdose.” Independent, July 17, 2019. Accessed August 21, 2019.
Avalle, Nicholas. “Airlines Have Started Carrying Narcan Onboard Amid Opioid Epidemic.” The Points Guy, July 19, 2019. Accessed August 21, 2019.
Harm Reduction Coalition. “Recognizing Opioid Overdose.” Accessed August 21, 2019.
Harm Reduction Coalition. “Administer Naloxone.” Accessed August 21, 2019.
Health and Human Services. “Naloxone: The Opioid Reversal Drug That Saves Lives.” Accessed August 21, 2019.
Collins, Francis Dr. “on board Linked to Fewer Opioid Deaths.” NIH Director’s Blog, May 14, 2019. Accessed August 21, 2019