Harm Reduction Advocate Who Lost Son To Overdose Joins Drug Policy Alliance

By Victoria Kim 04/25/19

In her new role, Joy Fishman is working on behalf of the legacy of both her husband, who invented naloxone, and her son.

Drug Policy Alliance board member shaking hands with another

Her husband invented naloxone. But that wasn’t enough to save her son from a fatal opioid overdose. Now, Joy Fishman channels her grief through advocacy for harm reduction policies toward drug use.

To further her important work—including expanding syringe access programs in Florida—Fishman has joined the Drug Policy Alliance as its newest board member.

The drug policy organization announced in early April that Fishman will be joining its Board of Directors.

Her late husband, Jack Fishman, was the first to synthesize naloxone in 1961. In 1971, the drug was approved by the FDA. But Fishman never profited from the enormous potential of the opioid antagonist. He let the original patent expire and did not reapply for one, allowing Big Pharma to get a hold of it.

Demand for the lifesaving medication significantly expanded over the last decade as the opioid epidemic’s death toll increased. Through the advocacy of organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, naloxone has become a household name.

Last April, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged more people to carry naloxone so they may be equipped to save a life. “Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose—that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” said Adams. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77% of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.”

In 2003, it wasn’t as easy to access naloxone. That year, Joy’s son Jonathan died from a heroin overdose. “It never even occurred to us that naloxone could save Jonathan,” Joy said to the Huffington Post in 2014. “Back then we didn’t think of naloxone as a household item. Doctors weren’t writing take-home prescriptions for it. It was hard for Jack to get naloxone even though he invented it!”

Jack Fishman regretted that he couldn’t prevent the death of his stepson. “One of Jack’s greatest sadnesses was that he couldn’t save my brother,” said Julie Stampler, Jonathan’s sister. “Jack had invented naloxone so many years ago that he had no connection to it anymore.”

With her new role at the Drug Policy Alliance, Fishman is working on behalf of the legacy of both her husband and her son. Expanding access to naloxone is just one of her goals.

At the 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, Fishman accepted the Norman E. Zinberg Award for Achievement in the Field of Medicine on behalf of her husband.

“I don’t want any more mothers to experience the same pain I have,” she said. “I’m not a fearless person, but I have drawn strength from the Drug Policy Alliance and their work. I feel such immense gratitude to be able to collaborate with them to honor the life of my son and to fulfill the promise of my husband’s work.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr