A New Mexico program that allows addicts to take home a fast-acting drug to prevent overdose deaths continues to grow here and has served as a model for similar initiatives around the nation.
The program allows nonmedical personnel to administer naloxone, better known by the brand name Narcan, which can save lives by quickly blocking the effects of opioid drugs such as heroin.
The New Mexico Department of Health has enrolled more than 1,000 people since January 2008 in a training program that teaches addicts, their friends and family members to recognize symptoms of a drug overdose and use Narcan to stop it.
In the same period, people used Narcan in at least 367 cases to prevent death, according to health department officials.
"Within 30 seconds to a minute-and-a-half, that person is coming around," said Amy LaFaver, who offers the training at Albuquerque's Healthcare for the Homeless. "It's amazing."
The drug typically is dispensed in an aerosol form and is used much like ordinary nose spray.
"It's very easy to administer, and it doesn't intimidate people," LaFaver said. The aerosol is more user-friendly than the original injection form of Narcan. "It's so important for us to get it out on the street."
Other states, including California and New York, have adopted similar training programs since New Mexico's began in 2001.
Health officials say the program now needs to adapt to the growing number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids, which include synthetic derivatives of opium such as methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Such drugs are often used in combination with illegal street drugs.
A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, called Narcan's status as a prescription drug a key barrier to its broader use. The group called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make Narcan an over-the-counter drug. An alternative would be to allow pharmacists to dispense the drug and to encourage physicians to prescribe it in tandem with opioid drugs, the group said.
Prescription opioids were responsible for 185 deaths, or about 55 percent of total fatal drug overdoses in New Mexico in 2007, the most recent year for which the state has data.
The figure the year before was 153 deaths, or 48 percent of fatal drug overdoses.
The number of heroin overdose deaths was 108 in 2007.
Dominick Zurlo, harm reduction manager for the state Department of Health, said Narcan can prevent overdose deaths for both prescription and illegal opioid drugs.
The program has grown as the number of trainers has expanded around the state, Zurlo said. He estimates that 1,000 people have received training since 2001.
A 20 minute program teaches people how to recognize an overdose and offer life-saving measures, including reviving someone, administering Narcan and calling 911, he said. Trainers also describe New Mexico's 2007 Good Samaritan law, which protects people from criminal prosecution who call 911 to report an overdose.
Tue. June 23, 2009; Posted: 09:53 AM