A pilot program that aims to put a drug-overdose antidote in the hands of thousands of Suffolk EMTs has saved 23 lives in its first 10 weeks, a county official said.
All of those people were found unconscious -- most barely breathing -- before being revived with naloxone hydrochloride, said Tom Lateulere, education and training chief for the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council.
The antidote, also known as Narcan, is administered through the nose to reverse the effects of heroin and other opiates.
"We have had phenomenal success with intranasal administration of this medication with no less than dramatic lifesaving incidents," said Dr. Scott Coyne, the police department medical director.
Expanded use of Narcan comes at a time when fatal opiate overdoses in Suffolk have nearly doubled -- jumping from 119 in 2010 to 217 last year, according to the county medical examiner's office. In the first three months of this year, 53 overdose deaths have been reported.
EMS council director Bob Delagi said the health department wanted to get Narcan in the hands of all emergency personnel as far back as 2009, but policies allowed only advanced-level EMTs to administer drugs requiring intravenous or intramuscular injection.
Under the pilot program sponsored by the state, EMTs with basic training can give Narcan, now available in intranasal doses.
So far, 1,083 EMTs out of the 5,000 registered countywide have been taught how to administer the antidote since the program was approved in May.
There are 21 ambulance service companies participating in the program. About 400 police officers in the Fourth, Sixth and Seventh precincts, and the Marine Bureau, have also been trained. All Suffolk officers are EMTs.
On July 1, the first day of the program's full launch, officials announced that a 27-year-old Mastic Beach man had been saved by police equipped with Narcan from a potentially fatal overdose. Since then, officials said police have saved eight more lives with the drug.
EMTs serving as volunteers with the ambulance companies saved the other 14 people. Further details on the revived individuals, including ages and sex, were not released.
Nassau County EMTs administer Narcan through the police department's ambulance service.
The overdose-halting drug is increasingly being used around the country and has no serious side-effects, medical experts say.
Suffolk's pilot program has a supporter in Liam Gibson, 43, a recovering heroin addict from Ronkonkoma, who said he has been straight for five years.
Gibson said he used to show up at his construction job high and finally made up his mind to kick the habit. He now works for a New York City nonprofit that helps addicts.
It's about time more was done to respond to the addiction crisis on Long Island, Gibson said.
"There will always be an epidemic out there," he said. "Drug abuse is not going to stop."