Heroin-related deaths in the U.S. have nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013. In 2013, the number of people who died from overdose rose to 8,200.
The Obama Administration is taking action to combat the issue by expanding access to a drug that can stop a heroin overdose. The life-saving opioid antagonist, called Naloxone, will be available without a prescription in more than 30 states.
Reversing A Heroin Overdose
Naloxone, which has a 90 percent success rate if consumed in time, reverses the effects of narcotic drugs. While doctors may use it when pain management complications from surgery arise, it is particularly effective in combating an opiate overdose.
Naloxone can be administered intravenously or through the nasal passage. It blocks the effects of extreme drowsiness, slowed breathing or loss of consciousness.
It counteracts central nervous system depression and allows the respiratory system to work, helping the overdose victim to breathe. The medication has no effect on a person who does not have opioids in their system and therefore, has no potential for abuse.
The Obama Administration’s Plan
The Obama administration launched private and public programs to address opioid and heroin addiction. The programs focus on prescription drug abuse, in addition to issues with substances sold on the street. The program includes a variety of initiatives, including but not limited to:
- Over-the-counter access: CVS Pharmacy will expand its 1-month-old program selling naloxone to patients without a prescription from locations in 12 states to 32 states in 2016.
- Funding for low-income communities: The Department of Health and Human Services has given $1.8 million to lower socioeconomic classes to purchase naloxone and train first responders on how to use it.
- Native American populations: The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service will provide BIA police officers and investigators with the naloxone.
- Police education: The Fraternal Order of Police will educate 330,000 members about identifying and treating opioid overdoses. The International Association of Chiefs of Police will educate law enforcement on how to prevent overdoses. City and state police officers will begin to require police officers to add naloxone to their everyday toolkit.
In August, the administration announced a $2.5 million strategy to combat the public problem of heroin abuse. Deeming it a health issue instead of a criminal justice problem, political parties on both ends of the spectrum have moved to support increased access to Naloxone.
Obama visited Charleston, West Virginia to unveil the programs. The state is particularly affected by addiction with an overdose rate of more than twice the national average.
Critics argue that the policy is vague and that the education initiatives are hard to implement. Regardless, the program will provide widespread access by doubling the number of doctors who can prescribe naloxone.
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