Pubdate: Sun, 30 Jul 2006
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
Copyright: 2006 Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.
Note: The Journal does not publish LTEs from writers outside its 
circulation area
Author:  The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Some Say It Will Slow Rise In Deaths; Critics Say It Condones Use

PHILADELPHIA -- In the wake of more than 400 deaths nationwide from 
heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl, some needle-exchange 
programs are giving addicts prescriptions for a drug to keep on hand 
to stop an overdose.

The antidote - naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan - 
can save the life of someone who might not call 911 for fear of 
prosecution, treatment providers say. Even if a user does call, help 
can arrive too late.

"If people have to rely on paramedics, more often than not, the 
overdose is going to be fatal, just because of the amount of time for 
people to get there," said Casey Cook, the executive director of 
Prevention Point Philadelphia, a nonprofit group that runs the city's 
needle-exchange program. It recently began distributing naloxone 
prescriptions through a doctor.

But others say that naloxone is best administered by trained 
paramedics and that the prescription approach might appear to condone drug use.

"We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to 
use heroin," said Jennifer DeVallance, a spokeswoman for the White 
House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Fentanyl - an opiate used legally in anesthesia and for cancer 
patients - is cheaper than heroin and 80 times more potent than 
morphine. That makes it an appealing additive for heroin distributors.

At least 150 fentanyl deaths have been recorded in the Philadelphia 
area, 130 in Chicago and 130 in Detroit.

John P. Walters, the director of the White House drug policy office, 
said that investigators hope to learn whether a laboratory raided in 
Mexico last month was a main source of illegal fentanyl reaching the 
United States.

"We think and we hope that the production site taken down in Mexico 
was the (main) site," Walters said.

Fentanyl can lead to respiratory failure so quickly that one addict 
in Philadelphia apparently died even before he finished shooting up. 
A syringe with some heroin still in it was in his arm when paramedics 
found his body, said Capt. Richard Bossert of Philadelphia's 
Emergency Medical Services Administration.

The case underscores the difficulty that medical workers have faced 
in responding to the fentanyl crisis. Bossert said that his unit has 
answered many calls but has saved only two people.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman