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Life-saving heroin overdose antidote gets boost from FDA

By Joe Beck

In the grim war against heroin overdoses, the drug Narcan has stood out as a beacon of life-saving hope.

That beacon may soon be burning brighter as a result of a recent FDA decision that is expected to allow people without special medical training to administer Narcan to stricken addicts.

Ambulance crews and emergency room doctors use Narcan as a standard treatment that revives unconscious overdose victims and saves their lives.

Capt. Raymond Cross of the Warren County Fire and Rescue Services estimates he has seen Narcan save hundreds of lives during his 24-year career.

"I've seen Narcan used lots and lots of times," Cross said. "I would say in the last two years, I've probably run 50 overdose cases."

Cross is one of those hailing an April 3 announcement by the Food and Drug Administration that will allow lay people -- addicts, their spouses, and friends -- to administer Narcan.

The FDA approved a prescription hand-held automatic injection device that can deliver a single dose of Narcan, also known as Naloxone, without waiting for the arrival of trained EMTS and paramedics.

Cross said he sees nothing but upside to the FDA's decision.

"I've been following the auto-injector right from when they started talking about it, and I'm definitely a big supporter," Cross said.

Frederick County Fire Chief Dennis Linaburg was more cautious, but still hopeful the auto-injector method will fulfill its promise.

Linaburg said he was worried about some patients who may have taken in so much heroin that Narcan will revive them only temporarily before they relapse again without trained medical assistance available. There is also a risk that an addict who emerges suddenly from unconsciousness can become disoriented and violent, Linaburg said.

But Linaburg said there is no denying the effectiveness of Narcan in helping overdose victims who have lost consciousness and are showing decreased breathing and heart rates.

"This area is having an epidemic of heroin overdoses," Linaburg said. "For lack of a better word, Narcan is a wonder drug when it comes to countering the effect of opiate drugs."

The FDA's announcement said Narcan is currently limited to administration by syringe.

Dr. Bob Rappaport said in a written statement accompanying the announcement that making Narcan available outside of ambulances and emergency rooms "could save lives by facilitating earlier use of the drug in emergency situations."

Rappaport is the director of the FDA's division of anesthesia, analgesia and addiction products.

Cross described the auto-injector as about the size and shape of a plastic cigar case that injects the Narcan under the skin.

The FDA's announcement stated that a family member administering the drug would hear verbal instructions from the auto-injector similar to those used in automated defibrillators.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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