Pubdate: Mon, 01 Dec 2014
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Citizens' Voice


Under a new Pennsylvania law that took effect last week, doctors and
emergency personnel can begin to reduce the death toll from the
state's prescription opioid and heroin epidemic.

Pennsylvania has the nation's 14th highest death rate from opioid drug
overdoses, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which also
reported that more state residents die each year from overdoses than
from any other cause of injury, including car crashes.

In response, the Legislature passed and Gov. Tom Corbett signed a new
law to widen the use of a highly effective opioid antidote, naloxone.

Respiratory failure is the primary cause of death for people who
overdose on prescribed opioid pain relievers or heroin. Naloxone
quickly reverses that respiratory distress and saves lives -- if it is
administered on time.

Until the new law took effect today, naloxone could be administered
only by physicians or other medical professionals. As a practical
matter, that meant that the life-saving drug could not be administered
until a patient reached an emergency room, sometimes too late to save
the patient's life.

The new allow allows first responders to administer naloxone in the
field. When they encounter someone in the throes of an overdose,
police or ambulance personnel now may inject naloxone at the scene.

Another aspect of the new law allows physicians to prescribe naloxone
to family members of someone who is taking prescribed opioid pain
relievers, or who is addicted to heroin.

The law also includes a hold-harmless provision for anyone who
administers the drug in good faith.

Though the focus of the debate leading to the new law was on heroin
addiction, people in severe pain sometimes overdose on opioids in
search of relief. And heroin addiction itself often flows from
addiction to legitimately prescribed opioids.

Naloxone does not produce a "high" and it is not addictive.

Local governments, ambulance companies and volunteer fire companies
should ensure that their first responders are prepared to save lives
through the use of naloxone. Each dose costs about $6, and a kit that
includes two injectable doses loaded in syringes costs about $15. It's
an effective and cost-effective way to diminish the deadly toll of
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