Use of the opioid antidote medication naloxone has become so widespread in reversing drug overdoses that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams is urging more Americans to carry the lifesaving tool.
Adams announced Thursday that more individuals, including families, friends and those at risk of an overdose, should keep naloxone on hand to prevent people and loved ones from dying.
The medication, often recognized by the brand name Narcan, is already carried by many EMTs, police officers, paramedics and firefighters. In New Jersey, schools are now required to train nurses on how to use naloxone and have it in supply.
“Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose—that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” Adams said in a statement. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.”
The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities nationwide.
There have been 813 drug overdose deaths in New Jersey from Jan. 1 through April 1 of this year, according to the state Office of the Attorney General. At that rate, overdose deaths for 2018 would eclipse the number seen in 2016. Numbers for 2017 were not available.
Health experts have connected the rise in overdose deaths to sharp increases in the use of fentanyl and synthetic opioids, which may take more dosages of naloxone to reverse an overdose.
First responders administered the lifesaving medication in New Jersey about 2,666 times between Jan. 1 and March 31, state data show. That number does not include unreported instances in which a family member, friend or individual used it to save someone.
Naloxone can be administered through a nasal mist or an injection.
Many county organizations and pharmacies sell or distribute the medication and offer training courses.
New Jersey Pharmacists Association CEO Elise M. Barry said the association applauds the Surgeon General’s recommendation and hopes to see the number of pharmacists in New Jersey that provide naloxone increase and expand access to residents.
Lewis Nelson, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said in a statement that while there are some unknowns about the overall risks and benefits of naloxone, most agree that there is a net benefit and that the drug should be widely and easily available.
Erin Zerbo, assistant psychiatry professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said some may think people will use opioids and heroin more recklessly if naloxone is available, but studies and research have shown that’s not usually the case and that naloxone remains a solid public health intervention that saves lives.
“It can take many minutes for an ambulance to arrive, and it only takes several minutes for a lack of oxygen to cause brain damage,” Zerbo said in a statement. “If naloxone is on hand, it can be given immediately and prevent this outcome.”