Kits Using Naloxone Revive Addicts After Opiate Overdose
By JASCHA HOFFMAN
Next to car crashes, opiate overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. In Europe, a lethal overdose occurs every hour. In poorer countries the problem is harder to measure, but in some places it is most likely even worse. When a person overdoses on opiates, his breathing becomes shallow and may eventually stop. Friends may be afraid to call an ambulance for fear of arrest. In remote areas, an ambulance may come too late, after oxygen deprivation has caused brain damage or death. Yet naloxone, a medicine that blocks opiate receptors, can revive even the most catatonic drug users. Used for decades by surgeons and paramedics, the drug has been shown to work when administered by bystanders in American cities. Recently groups in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have been distributing “overdose rescue kits,” which usually contain two doses of naloxone and two syringes. These groups may operate in a legal gray area by training addicts and their families to administer the drug themselves in the event of an overdose. Aside from saving lives, the kits give addicts a reason to return to treatment centers, where they may receive H.I.V. testing or counseling. In China, hot line operators dispatch rescue kits via motorcycle to desperate callers. In Afghanistan, an overdose rescue program relies on the same “skilled injectors” whom addicts pay to shoot them up with heroin. A shot of naloxone runs about $6 in the United States, but in most other countries the cost is below $2 and can be as little as a quarter. Global distribution of the drug as a nasal spray may make the kits even more practical.