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January 8, 2020

Overdose Reversals Save Lives–Period

Author Affiliations
  • 1Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California
JAMA Psychiatry. Published online January 8, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.4000

In early 2019, representatives of the US Department of Justice sued to prevent a nonprofit group from opening a supervised consumption facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This case, United States v Safehouse, has drawn considerable attention given its implications for US drug policies; however, one exchange during an August 2019 hearing was particularly disconcerting. After Safehouse president Jose Benitez testified that staff affiliated with a syringe exchange program had reversed more than 500 opioid overdoses with naloxone in 2018, William McSwain, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, contested whether these overdose reversals counted as “saved lives.” Arguing that a naloxone recipient might use substances later and die anyways, McSwain said, “You’re saying you saved a life when, in fact, someone just died.”

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