February 11th, 2014
06:04 PM ET

Federal officials support use of naloxone

With heroin use up nearly 80% since 2007, the nation's "Drug Czar," Gil Kerlikowske, is highlighting the benefits of an old, but effective drug called naloxone which can reverse an overdose.

While heroin overdoses account for only a small part of the opioid overdose epidemic, they are a leading cause of death in the United States, killing 100 people every day, Kerlikowske said in a White House press conference Tuesday.

"We're not going to arrest our way out of this problem," Kerlikowske said, pointing out several key things that help to reduce overdose numbers, including the use of naloxone.

Naloxone is a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses from heroin and opioid prescription pain killers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.  Opioids bind to the receptors in the brain and spinal cord, causing the body to slow down until it stops breathing.  When an addict takes naloxone, it can reverse this process, freeing up the receptors.

"Naloxone has very few side effects and can be safely administered in many different settings, so there is some hope for its expanded use," said Kerlikowske.

During the news briefing, federal officials said they support the increased use of naloxone by law enforcement officials and pointed out a pilot program in Staten Island, New York, where one officer was able to reverse an overdose last month.

Naloxone has also been used in  so-called harm reduction groups.  Just this past week, two people in Atlanta, Georgia were saved by naloxone distributed by volunteers from  the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, according to the group.

A recent article in the Journal of American Medical Association described the "Project Lazarus," a program in North Carolina that prescribes naloxone along with prescription drugs, so patients can give loved or friends this possible antidote to avoid and an opioid overdose.

Kerlikowske's office also pointed to efforts like drug take-back programs, safe prescription drug disposal, and behavioral therapies coupled with medications approved for the treatment of opiate dependence, like Suboxone.

According to the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), four out of five heroin users start by abusing prescription painkillers.

As Dr. Wilson Compton of the ONDCP explained, the increase in heroin abuse is related to the prescription drug abuse.

"Heroin is cheaper than prescription drugs and they make the switch for economic reasons," said Compton.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Wendy McEntyre

    Why aren't they putting Naloxone in Sober Living Homes? They need more regulation. Young men and women are dying throughout the country in Sober Living homes largely in part because the are under-regulated. They need trained staff to protect the people in them while they are recovering from Heroin and Opiate addiction. You can visit my website at http://www.jarrodslaw.org to find out more about regulation Sober Living Homes

    February 11, 2014 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. dave

    This is a lame response- like a drunk trying to get back on his horse. The federal government has failed to address the problems with pain care-with overprescribing opioids which fueled the heroin problem. Now what does the fed wish to do give everyone on opioids a naloxone kit- its insanity. As Helen Keller said to see without a vision is a terrible thing- and it terribly irresponsible for the federal government to fail to fix parlous pain care in the U.S.

    February 11, 2014 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RD

      Obviously this isn't a solution to the drug abuse problem people are dying by the thousands and naloxone has the ability to make a difference. To say that naloxone is useless because it doesn't fix the problem %100 is asinine.

      February 11, 2014 at 22:49 | Report abuse |
  3. dave

    RD- condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance. Naloxone saves lives but doesnt stop abuse- arguably it just enabling heroin users. Unlike yourself I belive in primary prevention. And since I have 26 legislators in NYS signed onto legislation to require education in pain care- obviously i walk the walk when it comes to the issue. Your solution is to keep the problem alive.

    February 12, 2014 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Whitney

      Dave- I would love to have a conversation with you about the evidence base and how it demonstrates that naloxone does not encourage nor enable drug use, and actually lowers both drug use and riskier drug use. Naloxone not only reverses overdoses saving lives- but it lowers the incidence of overdose to begin with. This signifies that there must be a behavioral change/intervention. It also has the potential to significantly change prescribing patterns, were it a standard of care to be co-prescribed. I have been advocating on issues related to the opioid epidemic and overdose prevention to Congress and the Administration for the last three years. I would love to hear more about your efforts in NY and see how we can work together. My organization- NY based- has been responsible for effective drug policy change in NYS.

      February 12, 2014 at 12:46 | Report abuse |
  4. Dave

    Kudos for your efforts at troubling the sleep of legislators on opioids and i look forward to your evidence.

    February 12, 2014 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
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