Lifesaving overdose antidote could soon be in more hands

Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 12:05 AM

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl speaks about the problems and causes of local opiate addiction and his thoughts on the use of the drug Narcan to save lives.

VIDEO: Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl talks about use of Narcan at

A drug that saves addicts from the death grip of a heroin overdose could be in the hands of more local emergency workers under legislative proposals pending in the Ohio General Assembly.

Narcan, the brand name for Naloxone, is a fast-acting drug that reverses the effects of heroin or opiate-derived drug overdoses, according to the Network for Public Health Law.

Narcan has been around since the 1970s, but has mostly remained in restricted use by emergency medical technicians and hospitals.

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Recent examples of emergency personnel use of the drug:

— In a 30-day period from Sept. 8, Dayton Fire Department EMT’s administered 80 doses of the drug. Senior Paramedic David Gerstner said overdoses can be reversed within seconds by administering the drug.

— Miami Valley Hospital emergency room physician Dennis Mann revived four patients Oct. 5 with Narcan. He’d like to see it in more hands. “It would be fantastic and save a lot of lives,” he said. “The goal is to keep the addict alive until he decides to get off the train to disaster.”

— In Middletown, emergency medical workers have administered double the doses of Narcan used last year. “Some days it is rampant,” said Middletown Fire Capt. Todd Day. “But it does seem to be sporadic lately.”

Narcan can revive those undergoing opiate-related overdoses within two minutes, but does not counteract overdoses from other drugs such as cocaine. It can be administered as a nasal spray or injection.

A poisoning death review by Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine in collaboration with the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office showed that of 162 overdose deaths in the county in 2012, heroin or other opiate showed up in the systems of 146 who died of “unintentional” overdoses. A drug like Narcan could potentially have saved 41, the study said.

The state legislation, along with three pilot programs in Ohio including one in southwest Ohio, is aimed at equipping more police officers and other first-responders including the family members of addicts with the drug.

The ADAMHS Board of Montgomery County, starting in November, will begin disbursing 500 blue nylon bags containing Narcan kits to those with drug addiction histories who are being released from jail or treatment centers. Year-long pilot projects are also underway in Scioto and Cuyahoga counties, said Andrea Hoff, director of Special Initiatives at ADAMHS.

The pilot here, called Project DAWN for “Deaths Avoided with Narcan,” will cost $130,000 and will be paid with county levy dollars, Hoff said. The kit comes with two vials of medication, two nasal device, and instructions.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer has mixed feelings about wider distribution of Narcan. He would like at least as much effort on treatment and preventing heroin addiction. “I don’t think giving people Narcan so they can do heroin again is the answer,” he said. “We are putting a band aide on the problem.”

Reporters Joanne Huist Smith and Lauren Pack contributed to this story.