ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — As deaths from heroin and other opiate drugs rise throughout New York, state officials are planning to equip police with an antidote to reverse the effects of overdoses.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the Community Overdose Prevention program on Thursday, saying it will let every state and local law enforcement officer carry naloxone.
Heroin can numb the central nervous system and stop breathing. During an overdose, the drug naloxone blocks opioid receptors in the brain, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.
Officers will be equipped with kits containing two syringes filled with naloxone — also marketed under the brand name Narcan — two inhalers of the drug, sterile gloves and a booklet on using the drug. The cost of the kit is roughly $60. Each has a shelf life of about two years.
“Putting this powerful antidote in the hands of every law enforcement agent in the state will save countless lives,” Schneiderman said. “It brings the victim back from the brink of death and buys more time to get to a hospital.”
Law enforcement officials say they will continue their battle against the heroin supply, but Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice noted, “You cannot arrest your way out of a crisis like this. Heroin addiction is an epidemic.”
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, heroin is becoming the drug of choice in wealthy suburbs, where painkillers costing more than $60 each lead addicted teens and young adults to cheaper, more accessible heroin, costing less than $10 a bag.
“I see people with money with this problem because they have the disposable income for the prescription drugs, and when that dries up, they go to heroin,” Kim Revere, president of the Kings Park In The Know Task Force, told Gusoff.
A Long Island mother, Angie Ruhry, said her son, Peter, was overdosing on heroin and was saved by the antidote.
“He did pass away since then, 18 months later, but those 18 months were a gift, anyone that’s lost a loved one knows that even one more day is a gift,” Ruhry said.
“He was an altar server, a lifeguard, co-captain of the varsity swim team,” she said. “He was the kid next door.”
The federal Department of Justice reports that heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010. The New York City Department of Health said fatal heroin-related overdoses increased by 84 percent between 2010 and 2012 after four years of decline.
In a pilot program since 2012, Suffolk County police and EMTs carrying naloxone have revived 184 overdose victims.
A 2009 New York High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Report showed that heroin posed the greatest threat to upstate communities and was becoming the primary drug in the greater Albany area.
Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco said prescription drug abuse has sparked a new heroin epidemic in the suburbs.
“It’s not the junkie in the alley anymore. It’s the valedictorian of the class; it’s the star athlete on the football team; it’s the good kid that sits down and eats dinner with his family every day,” Falco told Adams. “So it’s not what we perceive from the ’60s and ’70s.”
Gabriel Sayegh, director of the state Drug Policy Alliance, praised the program as “a huge step in the right direction.”
“I would hope that it sparks even more action on the part of the state,” Sayegh said, referring to a bill in the state Legislature that would expand access to naloxone. His organization advocates for a public health approach to drug abuse rather than relying on the criminal justice system.
Under the program, funded by $5 million of crime proceeds seized during federal and state criminal investigations, participating police departments or agencies can submit receipts for the cost of training and the kits to Schneiderman’s office and be fully reimbursed.
New York will be the first state to have a universal program, according to the attorney general’s office.
In 2010, the police department of Quincy, Mass., became the first department in the country to require officers to carry the drug.
Meanwhile, the federal government is also taking steps to fight heroin overdose deaths.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved an overdose antidote that doctors could prescribe for family members or caregivers to keep on hand, in a pocket or medicine cabinet. Called Evzio, it’s a device that automatically injects the right dose of naloxone. It will allow friends or loved ones treat someone they suspect has overdosed on heroin or powerful painkillers called opioids, while they’re waiting for medical care.
Teri Kroll, whose son, Timmy, was a heroin overdose victim, carries Narcan in her handbag — and has saved a life with it.
“To think something so simple that I carry with me on a daily basis can save a life? Oh my gosh,” she said.
Doctors say the drug has no detrimental effect if mistakenly given to someone who did not overdose on heroin.
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