September 20, 2012

City Considers New Tool for Reversing Drug Overdoses

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Correction appended

Citing an “epidemic” of drug addiction in Ithaca, city officials are deliberating giving the Ithaca Police Department permission to train officers how to administer a medication to individuals suffering from drug overdoses.

The medication, Narcan, is absorbed into the body through a nasal inhaler and is used to reverse the effects of drug overdoses within minutes, according to a city press release. The drug is an opioid antagonist; it binds to the same brain receptors as opioids, such as morphine and heroin, and blocks those drugs from binding and taking effect, according to a city press release issued Aug. 22.

Narcan takes effect anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes after it is administered, according to the New York State Department of Health’s website.

After completing training with the Southern Tier AIDS program, which offers training for “non-medical persons” to learn how to treat opioid overdoses, some Ithaca police could carry Narcan and will be authorized to administer the drug in emergency situations depending on whether or not the motion is approved.

“Opiate addiction is an epidemic throughout the City of Ithaca and the nation, with heroin and opiate overdoses rising in frequency and many of these overdoses resulting in death,” the press release states.

There were 1,818 deaths, 9,135 emergency department visits and 21,202 hospital admissions related to drugs in New York State in 2008, according to the most recent data available from the New York State Department of Health.

While Narcan can reverse the effects of a substance overdose in minutes, it also induces symptoms associated with drug withdrawal, according to Prof. David Smith, psychology. These symptoms can include a range of unpleasant feelings such as perspiration, irritability, nausea and more.

Still, several Cornell professors said they supported the use of Narcan in emergency situations.

Prof. Chad Lewis, chemistry, called Narcan a “useful last resort that can save lives.”

According to Smith, Narcan can be especially useful in treating acute overdoses — when an individual ingests more than the recommended maximum dose of a given drug.

“I think that if … there are no significant dangers … [Narcan] clearly could save some lives,” Smith said.

Smith noted that the medication is not particularly effective in long-term abusers. Individuals suffering long-term abuse should seek help in drug rehabilitation centers, he said.

Ithaca will follow cities throughout New York State in the use of Narcan by people who are not medically trained, a practice authorized in the state in April 2006.

Narcan — also known by its pharmaceutical name, naloxone hydrochloride — has been used for decades in hospitals to reverse the effect of opioid overdoses.

When taken in high or concentrated doses, opioids produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Some opioids, including morphine and codeine, are used in pain medications, often as post-surgical treatments.

“It always depends on dosage, as to whether [a drug] stays therapeutic or becomes detrimental,” Lewis said.

Correction: A previous version of this article and its headline incorrectly stated that city officials recently gave the Ithaca Police Department permission to train officers how to administer Narcan to individuals suffering from drug overdoses. In fact, the City Administration Committee just discussed potentially permitting the IPD to train officers in Narcan use.

Original Author: Ashley Chacon