Naloxone Inventor Lost Stepson To Opioid Overdose

By McCarton Ackerman 06/07/16

Forty-two years after creating the lifesaving antidote, inventor Jack Fishman lost his stepson to an overdose which could have been prevented if naloxone was available. 

Naloxone Inventor Lost Stepson To Opioid Overdose
Photo Intropin/WikiCommons

Opioid overdose hit close to home for the inventor of naloxone, with a new report revealing that he lost his stepson to one nearly 15 years ago.

Jonathan Fishman had struggled with addiction throughout his life, entering rehab at 17 and abusing heroin throughout much of his 20s before getting clean and working as a drug counselor in the late ‘90s. But in October 2003, he overdosed after injecting a combination of drugs inside his dealer’s house and died shortly after at a local hospital.

His stepfather, Jack Fishman, had helped develop naloxone decades earlier. However, not even he was legally allowed to purchase or administer the drug at the time of Jonathan's death.

“If there was naloxone available, Jonathan would still be alive,” said his mother, Joy, to Newsweek.

In the 1970s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved naloxone for reversing the effects of narcotics, and it became commonplace in emergency medicine. By 1983, the World Health Organization had placed it on its essential list of medicines. Despite this, drug users couldn’t access it for decades because federal law required a prescription and it could only be dispensed by a practitioner.

Although harm reduction programs in a handful of cities distributed naloxone at the time of Jonathan’s death, it was still unavailable throughout much of the U.S. Jack had even let the patent on the drug lapse as he became the head of a pharmaceutical company.

But when he died in 2013, his work with naloxone finally saw its rewards. The FDA approved Evzio the following year, known as the portable injection kit with a fixed amount of the drug. The nasally administered form of naloxone, known as Narcan, was then approved last year.

His family has also continued to push for policy changes at the local level. Jack’s son, Neil Fishman, helped get a law passed in his home state of Maine, that expanded naloxone access for first responders and family members who had loved ones at risk of overdosing. Meanwhile, Joy successfully lobbied for the Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA), a pilot program at the University of Miami to exchange used needles and syringes for clean ones. She also set up a private foundation in her late husband’s memory to help fund overdose prevention, and continues to carry naloxone in her bag in the event that she witnesses an emergency.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.