Drug-overdose antidote given to addicts free

Molly Novak

There is a drug that counteracts the effects of heroin, OxyContin and other painkillers that has been used by emergency rooms and ambulances for years.

Public health officials across the nation began distributing the drug, widely sold as naloxone, to addicts, their loved ones, police and firefighters for free a few years ago, reported the Associated Press.

The first program to give it away began in 1996 in Chicago, according to a survey by the Harm Reduction Coalition published in February, a group that works to reduce consequences of drug use. It may have saved more than 10,000 lives since then, reported AP.

The problem of drug overdoses has become more urgent. In the U.S., heroin overdose deaths nearly doubled over the last decade — 1,725 in 199 to 3,728 in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deadly overdoses from opiate-like drugs, including painkillers, almost quadrupled in the same time period.

Naloxone blocks drug receptors in the brain. It has no effect on alcohol or cocaine overdoses but works agains OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.

The drug is distributed through 50 programs in more than 188 locations across the country, according to the survey. Thousands have been taught how to use injectable and nasal spray forms of Naloxone, reported AP.

Opponents of the drug say that, by making the antidote so readily available, it accomodates to drug use and makes addicts less likely to seek treatment. According to AP, supporters of distribution say that by having it in users' homes it saves lives otherwise lost waiting for an ambulence.