In San Francisco, efforts to educate the public about naloxone — an antidote that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose — has led to a drop in heroin-related deaths, but abusers of prescription medications are still suffering fatal overdoses. In 2003, San Francisco became the first California city to publicly fund the distribution of naloxone, which has saved more than 900 lives over the past decade — and reversed 274 overdoses in 2012 alone, according to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle. But only 13 of last year’s 274 naloxone reversals were for prescription opiate overdoses, and another 37 involved the painkillers in combination with other drugs, the article says.
Fatal overdoses from heroin in San Francisco, which peaked at around 160 a year in the mid-1990s, have dropped to fewer than 10 a year today, and the city’s emergency rooms reported a 49% decrease in heroin-related visits from 2004 to 2010, the article says.
Meanwhile, the use of oxycodone rose by 528% from 2004 to 2010 based on emergency room visits, and non-heroin opiate use jumped 212%, according to the article.
Many other areas of the country have seen painkiller addiction rates rise, followed by an increase in heroin abuse. But San Francisco is interesting because its naloxone program appears to have curbed the number of heroin deaths: heroin still remains the most common drug that sends San Franciscans into treatment, the article notes, but people aren’t dying.
Although naloxone works equally well to counteract overdoses caused by prescription opiates, the article says, people who use prescription drugs may not be aware of the overdose risks and so may not consider naloxone relevant.