After spike in New Orleans heroin overdoses, naloxone available over the counter


The New Orleans' Health Department has made naloxone — which can reverse the effects of a heroin or opiate overdose — available without a prescription at the University Medical Center (UMC) Outpatient Pharmacy (2000 Canal St.). The city issued a public health advisory following a rise in overdoses in 2016 as Mardi Gras nears. 

In 2014 and 2015, New Orleans EMS noticed a significant rise in heroin and opiate overdoses. Since Jan. 8, EMS responded to double the number of calls per day than it did in previous weeks, according to the city. | The Times-Picayune reports EMS crews this month are responding to as many as five — and one one day, 10 — overdoses a day.

That increase prompted the City’s Health Department to issue the advisory. City Medical Director Joseph Kanter issued a standing order allowing over-the-counter purchases of naloxone exclusively via UMC.

In November 2015
, the Food and Drug Administration approved the naloxone nasal spray Narcan to stop or reverse opioid overdoses. Louisiana now allows physicians to prescribe naloxone no questions asked, allowing users, caregivers and friends and family to access the medication.

Drug overdose deaths, particularly from prescribed drugs, have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of injury death in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 44 people die, daily, from prescription opioid overdoses (prescription opioids include painkillers like Demerol, Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet and codeine syrup). There were 43,982 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2013 — more than half those deaths were from prescription drug overdoses. In 2011, drug use accounted for roughly 2.5 millions trips to the ER. Most overdose deaths from 1999-2013 were men ages 25-54 — but during the same time period, rates of overdoses among people aged 55-64 increased more than seven times.

“While naloxone can be used to quickly save a life, the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of people using heroin and other opiates," said New Orleans Health Department Director Charlotte Parent. "We are encouraging naloxone use for life saving purposes along with the use of substance abuse programs for people who are ready to quit.”

Kanter said it's "important that anyone with friends, family members or clients who use heroin or other opiates have easy access to naloxone. It is a safe and easy way to save the lives of those who are overdosing from heroin or opiates."

But long-term treatment is unavailable for many New Orleanians. New Orleans does not have a public facility for inpatient detox care. A list of private providers, programs and caregivers is available here.

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