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Lawmaker wants wider access to OD antidote

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

State Sen. Kim Ward wants to expand access to an antidote for drug overdoses so that police officers, firefighters and friends and family members could administer the life-saving drug.

Only physicians and paramedics may administer the narcotic, Narcan, to drug users who have overdosed on heroin or opiates such as OxyContin.

Ward, R-Hempfield, plans to introduce legislation this month. Sixteen states have passed similar laws, she said.

“Communities that have gone this route have reported a significant reduction in overdose-related deaths compared to those that have not,” she said.

Narcan is the trade name for Naloxone, a charcoal-based derivative that reverses the effects of other narcotics. It revives a person from a drug stupor and keeps the respiratory system from shutting down. Available only by prescription, the drug can be administered in a nasal spray or injected into a muscle or under the skin.

“Overdose deaths due to heroin or other opiate-related drugs are a major problem not only in my legislative district, but throughout the commonwealth and the nation,” Ward said. “It is harmless if administered by accident, but it could be lifesaving during an overdose.”

Ward's bill would permit a parent, sibling or friend who has taken a state training course to administer the antidote before a person stops breathing.

“If they are able to act quickly, they may be able to reverse the effects of the overdose before it can cause irreparable harm,” she said.

Her measure would provide immunity from civil lawsuits and criminal charges to a person administering the drug who is not a medical practitioner.

Gary Tennis, state Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said he will support Ward's bill.

“It's needed, especially in this county,” he said.

Tim Phillips, director of Community Prevention Services at Westmoreland Community Action in Greensburg, said wider access to Narcan is needed in light of the county's record 86 drug overdose deaths last year.

“Nobody shoots dope by themselves,” Phillips said. “If they're with someone and they have Narcan, it's going to save a lot of lives. When we bring them back, we can give them additional treatment.”

Alice Bell, direct of the Overdose Prevention Project for Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a needle exchange program, said the organization can train a person to administer Narcan in 10 minutes.

“It's extremely safe and it's extremely effective,” Bell said.

“We get calls from family members asking, ‘Where can we get Narcan. My kid just got out of treatment and we're worried.' We have to tell them you can't get it, but your kid can get it. I think it should be over the counter,” she said.

Bell said physicians who prescribe narcotics to patients suffering from chronic pain often prescribe Narcan as well in case of an overdose.

A dose of Narcan costs between $10 and $30, “which is pretty low when you consider it saves someone's life,” Bell added.

Mt. Lebanon police Chief Coleman McDonough said his community has experienced eight overdose deaths in 18 months, but paramedics who carried Narcan have saved a number of others.

“I'm tired of people dying in Mt. Lebanon,” he said.

McDonough believes if his 45 officers could administer Narcan, they could revive overdose victims just as they can save residents suffering heart attacks by using the external defribrilators kept in their vehicles.

“Our police officers are often the first ones on the scene,” he said.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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