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Suffolk bills aim to help heroin users

A drug antidote kit containing Narcan is pictured

A drug antidote kit containing Narcan is pictured at the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance in Mineola. (Aug. 1, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

A nasal drug-overdose antidote now in the hands of hundreds of Long Island cops and paramedics has saved 51 lives in Suffolk County and dozens more in Nassau since its introduction last year, authorities said.

All the rescued drug users -- including many who had taken heroin -- were found unconscious before being revived with naloxone hydrochloride spray, commonly known as Narcan, police said. The antidote is administered through the nose and works by knocking opiate molecules from the brainstem's nerve receptors.

The drug, used by hospitals and paramedics, has no major side effects and is inert when narcotics aren't in the body. Nassau and Suffolk fund their Narcan programs with a combination of state and local funds.

Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the original legislation allowing Suffolk police to begin carrying the antidote in July, has introduced a new bill that would require the county health department to refer those saved by Narcan to addiction treatment centers.

"Addiction is very complicated, but we're talking about a potential transformational moment for an individual and we need to take advantage of it," Hahn said. "The contact for referral for treatment needs to happen as quickly as possible after lives are saved."

Hahn said those referrals are even more important in light of new statistics showing that heroin-related overdose deaths rose to a record high of 83 in Suffolk County last year, up from 64 in 2011.

"It's really frightening," said Hahn, who is also drafting legislation that would allow certain civilians like some parents of addicts and drug treatment workers to administer Narcan.

Both bills are expected to be voted on later this month, Hahn said.

One Suffolk resident saved by Narcan, who requested anonymity because his family is not aware of his drug addiction, said a Suffolk police officer rescued him by administering the antidote during a heroin overdose in January.

"I owe my life to that stuff," he said, adding that he is now in a drug-treatment program. "I got a second chance."

An epidemic of drug overdoses in New York prompted state officials in 2006 to allow nonmedical personnel to administer the drug. Other states have enacted similar laws.

The state Health Department licenses community nonprofits, health care facilities and others to train people on Narcan.

Hundreds of medics and emergency medical technicians in Nassau County began administering nasal Narcan through the police department's ambulance service late last year. Nassau County police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack said Narcan in non-nasal form had already been used by the county paramedics for 30 years.

"In that time, it's saved hundreds of lives," Lack said.

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