Sometimes the world is a strange phenomenon, odd peculiarities happen and as an observer you can be left wondering how on earth did things work out that way. Let’s look at Dr. Jack Fishman who helped develop Naloxone a powerful medication to counter the potentially fatal overdoses. These overdoses were occurring from the use of heroin and other narcotics in the fifties and sixties. William Burroughs the author and self confessed addict to heroin wrote extensively about the rise in heroin use and the overdoses in his “semi-autobiographical book ” Junky” published in 1953. Two diverse people with two diverse interactions with the same drug, one for the purpose of “creating a life”Burroughs and the other to understand it so that he could help save a life.
The term junky or junkie began to be used during this time of the 50’s to describe those people who used heroin or junk as heroin was often called. Observed particularly on the streets of New York was the odd behaviour of gathering or collecting junk particularly scrap metal to sell in order to be able to buy heroin. This was done by those people wanting or needing to buy their next hit and who had no other way to raise the necessary funds.
Hence the term junky emerged to describe a person collecting junk to sell to buy heroin. The term back then referred to the behaviour of the person and was not ascribed to reflect the worthiness or worthlessness of the person which is the case in 2017. This current use of language stereotypes and stigmatises.
So, during the 50’s and 60’s with the rise in the use of the drugs heroin and morphine there were many subsequent overdoses. Dr. Fishman and other researchers at the time were driven to find an antidote with the pure intention was to save lives. Just as we are going through now in Victoria.
As researchers they were pleased with the results they were getting for Naloxone in their trials. What they found was that this drug was more powerful than others they had tried and had less side effects.
With success the first patent was granted to Dr Fishman in 1961 in the USA. Here we are in 2017 finally being able to have community access to the drug to save lives without needing to be medically trained to administer it to save a life.
An irony and sadness to this story is that Dr Fishman’s stepson Jonathan Stampler died from an overdose in 2003. At the time Dr Fishman no longer held the patent to the drug.
At the time of his stepson’s death doctors were not writing prescriptions for Naloxone for family or friends to administer. Availability to the drug, the drug his step father developed may have saved his life.
The move in our communities to allow access to Naloxone for community members will save lives which is what Dr Fishman intended with his development of the drug. The move will begin to drive a wider recognition of drug use as a health issue. We must keep in mind that not all people who die from an overdose are addicted to the drug of choice, they have in fact on that occasion miscalculated their intake.
Each life is valued and as a community we should do all we can to preserve them.
William Burroughs back in 1953 wrote in his book a description of two doctors coming to treat him in a hospital after being transported by police. One highlights the need to treat William and his condition as a health issue right back then.
The doctor asked a few questions and looked at my arms. Another doctor with a long nose and hairy arms walked up to put in his two cents.
“After all, doctor”he said to his colleague, “there is the moral question. This man should have thought of all this before he started using narcotics.
“Yes, there is a moral question, but there is also a physical question. This man is sick.”
He turned to his nurse and ordered half a grain of morphine.
William S Burroughs