Suffolk aims to curb drug overdose deaths

A file photo of a bottle of OxyContin. A file photo of a bottle of OxyContin. Photo Credit: David L. Pokress, 2005

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In an effort to curb drug overdose deaths, Suffolk County is putting a fast-acting antidote to opiates in the hands of more first responders.

The county is testing a new state program allowing emergency medical technicians with basic-level training to administer the drug Naloxone. Administered nasally, Naloxone can quickly stop an overdose of heroin or prescription painkillers from becoming fatal by blocking the narcotic's path to the brain.

"Make no mistake about it; this will save lives," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who joined County Executive Steve Bellone and health and police leaders Monday to announce the two-year pilot program.

Currently, only advanced-level EMTs can provide Naloxone, sold under the trade name Narcan, to overdose patients. There are about 850 advanced EMTs in Suffolk, and they've increasingly administered the drug in recent years, from 250 doses in 2009 to 570 last year.

There are 5,000-basic level EMTs in the county, including police officers, often the first to respond to overdoses. Under the program, several hundred of them, spread across police precincts and 19 volunteer fire departments, will soon carry Narcan.

"We're talking about saving several minutes, in most cases," said Scott Coyne, Suffolk police chief surgeon and medical director.

Bob Delagi, the county emergency medical services director, said the development of Narcan in a form that does not require injection allowed more people to safely administer it. Nonmedical personnel can be trained to do it, so he said the state program helps "fill a gap."

A surge in prescription drug abuse has caused related crimes and overdoses to spike, officials say. Deaths involving non-heroin opiates increased from 103 to 174 between 2004 and 2011 in Suffolk.

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