‘I Could Save Their Life’: Black Nurse Who Carried Opioid Over Dose Reversal Drug Denied Life Insurance

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A Massachusetts nurse was unable to obtain life insurance after Primerica discovered she carries a drug that’s used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose — even though she has the drug to help others, not herself.

Isela, who works at Boston Medical Center in an addiction treatment program, kept the drug naloxone on her, and it showed up on her medication list when she applied for life insurance, according to National Public Radio’s WBUR. The nurse, whom NPR only named using her first name over her fear that the story could block her ability to obtain life insurance elsewhere, said the final step in her Primerica application process was to get blood work. But the appointment was canceled when she arrived at the lab.

naloxone
(Jeff Anderson/Flickr)

When she got in touch with her insurance agent to get to the bottom of what happened, Isela was told naloxone, which has the brand name Narcan, showed up on her prescriptions list. That indicated to Primerica that she is a drug user.

“But I’m a nurse, I use it to help people,” Isela recalled telling her agent. “If there is an overdose, I could save their life.”

Primerica says it doesn’t discuss individual cases but in a statement to NPR, it said naloxone has become more commonly found over the counter.

“Now, if a life insurance applicant has a prescription for naloxone, we request more information about its intended use as part of our underwriting process,” said Keith Hancock, the vice president for corporate communications. “Primerica is supportive of efforts to help turn the tide on the national opioid epidemic.”

Since Primerica denied her, Isela, who has stopped carrying naloxone outside of work, went to another, unnamed life insurance company to try to obtain coverage. She was once again denied. However, they told her she could be reconsidered if she got a letter from a doctor stating she had a prescription. But Isela discovered her prescription was a statewide one that many states have adopted for naloxone. The doctor who signed it? Dr. Alex Walley, Boston Medical Center addiction medicine doctor and director of the Boston Medical Center Addiction Medicine Fellowship program.

“We want naloxone to be available to a wide group of people — people who have an opioid use disorder themselves, but also [those in] their social networks and other people in a position to rescue them,” said Walley, who has written letters for six BMC employees who failed to get life or disability insurance. “My biggest concern is that people will be discouraged by this from going to get a naloxone rescue kit at the pharmacy. So this has been frustrating.”

But for Isela, some of her frustrations have subsided. After she obtained Walley’s letter noting she keeps naloxone to be able to reverse the effects of an overdose, she was told she could reapply to the second life insurance company. The nurse is currently reapplying for insurance.

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