The Wonder Drug
By Carly Maher
Growing availability and training in the administration of a heroin overdose antidote has saved at least 5 lives in the state of Connecticut since October 2014.
The drug naloxone hydrochloride, marketed under the brand name “Narcan,” takes less than one minute to revive a person experiencing a life-threatening overdose. Narcan can be either injected or administered through an intranasal spray. The spray in particular is gaining popularity, as Narcan is being made available to all first responders throughout the state of Connecticut.
The prescription pill epidemic and increase in the use and prevalence of heroin have incited policy changes in an effort to preserve the lives of those struggling with addiction, the most recent of which is Public Act 14-61. Signed by Governor Dannel Malloy on October 1, 2014, PA 14-61 grants immunity to anyone who administers Narcan to a person who appears to be experiencing an overdose. The “good Samaritan” cannot be held liable for any adverse reactions that may occur during that process.
“The law made people more comfortable acting in a life threatening situation,” says Mary Kate Mason, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS). Narcan is now in the hands of many police, firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics. Popular drug chains CVS and Walgreens have even made the product available over the counter in Rhode Island and Vermont.
Though its availability to civilians is recent, licensed health care professionals have been able to prescribe Narcan at their discretion since Public Act 12-159 of 2012.
“This meant that if a person was struggling with addiction or had a history, a doctor could prescribe Narcan to a loved one,” says Mason. “A person struggling with a heroin or prescription pill addiction is not thinking about overdosing. The act was important for empowering families in case of an emergency.”
All Connecticut state troopers are now trained carriers of Narcan, but this is not true for many municipal officers.
“All Hartford cops do not carry Narcan,” says Lieutenant Gerardo Pleasant of the Hartford Police Department. “In an urban area like Hartford, response to an emergency call about an overdose usually results in the police and paramedics arriving at the same time. In these cases, paramedics administer Narcan at the scene. Training full police departments to use Narcan would be advantageous in more rural areas of Connecticut, where there is an increased possibility that the police will be first on the scene.”
According to Connecticut Police Academy Administrator Thomas Flaherty, all emergency responders throughout the state have had opportunities to participate in Narcan trainings. Beginning in September 2014, the Connecticut Police Academy and the Connecticut Department of Public Health collaborated on a recurring program called “Train-the-Trainer” for police and firefighters to act as ambassadors to their respective departments. 34 emergency response professionals elected to participate in the first training, and 26 practitioners attended a second training held a month later.
“The trainings are not mandatory. The police officers or firefighters who attended did so in order to educate others at their own locations,” says Flaherty.
Such preparation on the part of police officers is due to epidemic proportions of street drugs like heroin and prescription pills such as OxyContin. These natural and synthetic opioids are highly addictive and affecting more people in the state of Connecticut now than ever before.
“There is an upward trend for heroin and prescription pill use in Connecticut still. Regarding those whom we service, heroin is second only to alcohol, which has always been number one,” says Mason. Connecticut DMHAS provides support to around 110,000 people every year. In 2013, 63,000 of those people were treated for addiction to heroin.
Although Narcan is not yet available over the counter in Connecticut, the resounding response to the increasing availability of this “wonder drug” is positive. In Rhode Island, at least 8 lives have been saved by civilians administering Narcan since August 2014. With more and more people being affected by opioid abuse on the East Coast, Connecticut could be next to offer Narcan without a prescription.
These acts, policies, trainings, and the spreading of applicable education are working to eradicate the heroin and prescription pill problem in Connecticut. With the number of lives saved increasing by the month, Narcan continues to speak for itself.