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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Easier access to opiate OD antidote urged

Karl W. Klug demonstrates the use of Narcan

Karl W. Klug demonstrates the use of Narcan in his office in Hauppauge. (Sept. 14, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

Nassau County intends to push New York State to pass a law mandating that opiate overdose antidote kits, like defibrillators, be placed in school nurse offices, fire departments and other public places, officials said.

The county is also the state's first to begin an aggressive effort to train civilians -- including addicts, their families and friends -- on how to recognize overdoses and administer naloxone hydrochloride, the antidote also known as Narcan.

This is a significant and welcome development on Long Island, which just four years ago, in the midst of a spate of heroin-related deaths, had no local programs offering training to civilians.

The Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD), which has offices in Mineola and Ronkonkoma, began widening that circle a year and a half ago by conducting trainings from Massapequa to the Shinnecock Reservation.

According to Jeffrey Reynolds, LICADD's executive director, the sessions are well attended. "We get a lot of parents, we always get a lot of parents," he said Friday after a news conference in Mineola, where County Executive Edward Mangano's Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Prevention Committee announced Nassau's initiatives.

Later that evening, Reynolds stood before hundreds of people who crowded into the Church of St. Patrick in Huntington to learn about opiate addiction, prevention and the too-often uphill battle addicts and their families have securing help.

Several parents who lost a child to opiates told of finding their sons or daughters, after an overdose, in or near their homes.

Making Narcan more widely available can help, Reynolds said, because "too many kids die before they see the light of our door and too many parents say they are in a race against time."

It can take three hours for an overdose victim to die, according to experts. Narcan reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. "It ought to be available over the counter," Reynolds said, echoing a sentiment from prevention advocates who have been pushing the federal government to make that possible.

There is plentiful justification since, according to U.S. government statistics, someone in the nation dies of an opioid overdose every 19 seconds.

In Nassau last year, 151 residents died of prescription opioid drug or heroin overdoses. For Suffolk, the number was 217, meaning just over once a day on average a person died on Long Island due to the drugs.

What can Narcan do? In Nassau, where the antidote has been stocked in ambulances for years, the county administered 228 doses between Sept. 11 last year and this year. In Suffolk, which began a trial program for emergency medical technicians this year, the drug saved 23 lives during its first 10 weeks.

Nassau wants to follow cities such as New York and Boston that put the antidote into the hands of addicts and their families. And the county plans to add to its upcoming state legislative agenda a change in state law to allow kits to be located in as many public places as possible.

"We did the research and we see that Narcan is saving lives," said Eden Laikin, head of Nassau's prevention committee. "We want to save lives here."

The county already has trained social services employees and has slated a training for the heads of agencies that contract to provide services for the county. Laikin said the county planned to launch its first training for families and friends by the end of the month.

Interested? Nassau County residents can call 516-571-6105.

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