If Narcan is free, then Epi should be as well

By R. Zachary Whitehead

Guest columnist

The opiod epidemic is rampant in Ohio, as well as around the country. Here in Miami County, we have had more than 70 OD’s since Jan. 1. There are many avenues to combat this underway, and with a recent lull in these cases, one can only pray that we are making gains toward ending this horrible cycle of addiction and overdose.

From family to close friends, I can appreciate the role Narcan has played in giving those we love a second (third, fourth …) chance. Getting another chance at life due to the life-saving, and plentiful availability, of such a crucial drug at the right moment is something we can be grateful for. I pray that its use is one day never needed.

My son, Maddox, is 3 years old and absolutely adorable. He loves “Star Wars” and plays Mario Kart while we walk through the woods, the grocery, the house, pretty much everywhere! He has a vibrant personality, a golden smile, and cheeks you just want to squeeze all day.

Maddox also has food allergies. And when I say allergies, I mean he is anaphylactic. This type of reaction is life-threatening, and time is of the absolute essence. Any delays in administration of the right drugs could result in painful and itchy hives, wheezing, and even worse, his death.

When Maddox was 8 months old, he ingested a dairy product given to him by a family member. Within minutes, he developed hives on his face and trunk, and began to wheeze. We knew he had allergies, and our oldest son also had allergies and asthma, so we began to treat the symptoms. Inhaler, breathing treatment, 5 ml of Benadryl. No results.

My wife being a nurse, her mother a nurse, and her step father a physician, all present at the time, all at once became gravely concerned. Maddox had begun to develop hives over his whole body, and his lips and nail beds began turning blue. There was no more time to waste; we picked him up and rushed him to the hospital.

On the way to the hospital, my wife used our EpiPen to inject our son’s thigh. Flip the cap, push in until it clicks, and hold for 10 seconds. We were about 15 minutes away from the hospital. The EpiPen bought us enough time to get to the hospital. However, Maddox was not out of the woods just yet.

When we arrived, Maddox was taken straight back and started on 6 liters of oxygen, as his saturation level was in the low 80 percent range (normal is 99 percent, anything under 92 percent requires supplemental O2). He was suffering, he couldn’t breathe, and we were helpless to do anything but pray, and pray that the Epi was doing its job. Due to the injection, Maddox’s heart rate was over 200, another dangerous aspect that we were trying to confront.

Following more rounds of Benadryl, supplemental O2, and the prayers of family and friends, Maddox’s O2 slowly returned to normal. In fact, the ER physician gave him 10 ml of Benadryl (for the third or fourth time, forgive me if I lost count), and had there not been a change at that point, his next move was a CareFlight to Children’s in Akron.

Many people hear about food allergies in children, but they don’t fully understand or they have an idea that the child just gets sick. I hope that Maddox’s story puts a better picture in your mind of what food allergies look like in children, and then try to imagine yourself as the parent of that child.

I am certain that finding an unconscious son or daughter due to an opiod overdose has a similar effect. You are helpless. You can only pray that whatever they administer will work, and that, on the other side of this, you can find a way to keep this from happening again.

While I know that addiction is very complicated, and I do not make light of it, we must understand that kids born with or who have developed food allergies did not make that choice. They did not decide they were going to experience these reactions, or have these sensitivities.

The necessary, life-saving intervention for these children is epinephrine. If I can walk into a pharmacy and get Narcan to save my son or daughter’s life in that horrific scene, then I should have the same opportunity as the parent of a child with severe food allergies.

My son is not alone. My wife and I are not alone. We don’t want anyone else to be, either. A vial of epinephrine (not the EpiPen brand by Mylan) costs $10. But without the easy administration that is available via the EpiPen, the margin of error increases. In a situation where you or your child’s life hangs in the balance, you want that margin of error as close to zero as possible.

There is not one reason that if Narcan can be given freely, that these same institutions cannot step up and provide families of children with food allergies the same life-saving interventions, free of cost.

I have not yet read a story where a parent was unable to afford the EpiPen and the unfortunate has happened. But I do fear that it is only a matter of time. We can do better.

R. Zachary Whitehead is a Troy resident.

R. Zachary Whitehead is a Troy resident.