Public health officials are taking extraordinary steps to make naloxone more readily available to the public, and in fact, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams is encouraging more Americans to start carrying the drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

Some 42,000 people in the United States died from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016. Some estimates indicate the number reached 64,000 last year.

Here in New Bedford, officials reported a decline in overdose deaths last year, but an increase in the number of actual overdoses. That could be an indication that first responders are having success with naloxone, often referred to be it's most brand name Narcan.

Dr. Adams, arguing for putting Narcan in the hands of more Americans, recently told the National RX Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, "You don't have to be a policeman or a firefighter or a paramedic to save a life." 

According to Fox News, Adams says 95 percent of all insured Americans are covered to purchase naloxone.

Narcan can be purchased over the counter in most states. A similar drug, Evzio requires a prescription. Fox reports Adapt Pharma, which manufactures Narcan, is providing samples to schools and first responders, and has been working to reduce the cost of the drug to consumers. CVS, Walgreen, and Harvard Pilgrim have lowered prices, and some stores are waiving co-pays.

Supporters of making naloxone more widely accessible to the public argue correctly that doing so saves lives. Opponents say it does nothing to treat the addiction, and in fact provides people with a safety net and discourages the addict from seeking treatment.

Both sides make valid points. While it is difficult to argue with anyone who is looking to save lives, it is equally difficult to argue with those who make the case that drugs such as naloxone can extend a drug dependency by providing a false sense of security to the addict, delaying the decision to seek treatment.

The solution to this drug crisis is to find a way to keep the drugs out of the hands of those who might ultimately become addicted, while at the same time addressing the issues that lead to addiction.

Neither is going to be easy.

At least for the time being, making the overdose reversal drugs more readily available seems to make sense.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.