Heroin use is on the rise, a consequence of lower prices and the crackdown on prescription drug abuse. Also on the rise, not surprisingly, are heroin overdoses.
The recent death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is but one example of a heroin overdose that might have ended less tragically if a universally effective opiate-blocking antidote known as naloxone had been available.
Death in the case of a heroin overdose isn’t immediate, but typically occurs within one to three hours. If naloxone is administered during this period, it can reverse the drug’s effects on the brain and save the victim’s life.
If Hoffman had been with a friend when he overdosed, or had still been alive when his friend found him, and naloxone had been readily available, he might have been saved — as a Troy man was Jan. 31 when a Rensselaer County sheriff’s deputy responded to a 911 call and administered naloxone nasal spray.
Naloxone has been legal in New York since 2006, but it is fairly tightly controlled: It must be administered by or in the presence of either law enforcement or medical personnel.
A bill introduced in the state Legislature earlier this month and already passed by the Senate Health Committee, would make naloxone more accessible by allowing the non-medical staff of health care (e.g. drug treatment) agencies to administer the drug themselves or to give it to drug users to administer in case of emergency.
The Good Samaritan Law passed in 2011 protects people who attempt to get help for victims of drug overdose. A law helping to get a life-saving antidote into such people’s hands is the next logical step.