Support On the Rise for Giving Naloxone to Emergency Personnel

By Paul Gaita 04/18/14

Proponents for equipping emergency responders with the lifesaving overdose antidote have become more vocal, with only those on the edges holding on to their opposition.


The growing chorus of support for equipping first responders with naloxone, a lifesaving drug that can reverse heroin overdoses, was bolstered by comments by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who called on state and local law enforcement agencies to provide police and firefighters with greater training and access to the medicine.

In remarks prepared for a speech for the Police Executive Research Forum, Holder said, “I urge state policymakers and local leaders throughout the nation to take additional steps to increase the availability of naloxone among first responders, so we can provide lifesaving aid to more and more of those who need it.” Naloxone hydrochloride, or Narcan, is an opiod antagonist that blocks the brain cell receptors activated by heroin and prescription drugs like oxycodone, and will restore arrested breathing within minutes of administration.

As police and firefighters are often the first people to reach a person in the throes of an overdose, many law enforcement agencies have pushed to equip their personnel with naloxone in order to save lives. The drug is credited with saving more than 10,000 lives since 1996, when the first community-based opioid overdose prevention programs were implemented. To date, 17 states have passed laws that expand access to naloxone.

Despite these numbers, naloxone has also drawn criticism for providing a false safety net for addicts while also posing a dangerous threat in the hands of untrained or non-medical professionals. Republican Governor Paul LePage of Maine has voiced some of the strongest opposition to expanding naloxone use in his state, where overdose deaths quadrupled between 2011 and 2012. Supporters of expanded access counter these claims by noting the relative ease in using naloxone injectors, which is currently introduced into the body via a nasal spray.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration approved a newer, hand-held auto injector which delivers the drug into the muscle and requires no training.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.