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Editorial: Opiate-overdose antidote will save lives

The state is seeking bids for 25 residential

The state is seeking bids for 25 residential beds that would offer treatment for the first time to adults ages 18-25 battling prescription drug or opiate addiction on Long Island. Photo Credit: Bluestocking

Caregivers of opiate abusers will now be allowed access to a treatment device for overdoses. It's a triumph of common sense that will save lives.

The treatment is Evzio, a hand-held auto-injector of a single dose of the drug naloxone. When delivered into the muscle or beneath the skin, the drug can temporarily reverse the effects of opiates such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin. The Food and Drug Administration last week approved sales of the device. Relatives and caregivers of opiate abusers will be able to buy it with a doctor's prescription.

Naloxone is the standard treatment for opiate overdoses, which claimed 16,600 lives in 2010, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Right now people have to rely on emergency responders to administer the injections. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman last week announced plans to make the drug, also known as Narcan, available to police statewide. Suffolk County police took part in a trial program in 2012, and the county's EMTs carry the drug. Narcan administered by Suffolk first responders saved 563 lives last year, according to Schneiderman's office.

But time is of the essence when a person overdoses. Breathing and heart rate slow down, and a person loses consciousness. Death can follow, often too quickly for police or EMTs to ride to the rescue. So wider access to naloxone can be the difference between life and death. The emergency injection reverses the effects of opiates, but it's no substitute for medical attention. Naloxone doesn't stay in the system as long as opiates, so repeat doses may be needed. And it could bring on opiate withdrawal, with increased blood pressure, seizures and even cardiac arrest.

Long Island has not escaped the national opiate epidemic. It will take a determined campaign of education, treatment, rehabilitation and law enforcement to stem the tide. In the interim, Evzio will save lives.