Study touts benefits of opioid overdose reverser

Distributing the life-saving opioid overdose reverser naloxone can save one life for every 227 naloxone kits distributed, a new study has found.

Naloxone distribution to heroin users is likely to reduce overdose deaths and is cost-effective “even under markedly conservative assumptions,” said the authors of the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. For every 20% of heroin addicts in a population treated with the drug, about 6.5% of overdose deaths could be prevented, resulting in 2,000 lives saved in a population of 200,000 heroin users, the study found.

Anywhere from 1 to 2 million Americans currently misuse heroin or prescription opioid drugs and could be in danger of an overdose. As of 2010, about 188 naloxone distribution programs exist in the U.S., and these groups have trained over 53,000 people and reported more than 10,000 overdose reversals, according to this article.

White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske recently called for increased action to prevent drug overdose deaths, specifically through wider distribution of naloxone.

Although opiate overdoses are on the rise, many people still don’t know about naloxone, which literally reverses the dangerous effects of taking too much OxyContin or heroin by counteracting the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system.

Last year, the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that seeks to advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, said in a policy brief that naloxone’s status as a prescription drug is one of the key barriers to broader access. And due to its status as a generic medication, producing it does not yield substantial profits, so many pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to manufacture it, the organization noted.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration held a public hearing to discuss making naloxone available over the counter.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that naloxone has successfully saved the lives of more than 10,000 overdose victims since 1996. However, only 15 states and the District of Columbia currently have naloxone distribution programs. This, despite the fact that nearly 40 Americans die per day from overdoses of prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, according to a recent CDC report.

Learn more about what to do in the event of an opiate overdose here (courtesy of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), or watch the video below to learn more about Narcan administration. Or contact The DOPE Project.

About Erin Marie Daly

I’m a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. My book on prescription drug and heroin addiction was published in August 2014 by Counterpoint Press.
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