By RYAN DUNN
Area health officials are praising a new state law that loosens restrictions on who can carry a lifesaving drug.
Medical professionals use the nasal spray naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to immediately reverse fatal heroin and painkiller overdoses.
Gov. John Kasich recently approved a bill allowing drug users’ friends and family members to possess naloxone, after they obtain a prescription or are given the drug by a doctor.
Police officers will now be able to carry the drug as well.
Previously, only paramedics and drug users could possess naloxone.
The drug is another important resource as opiate addiction has grown into a national epidemic, said John Stanovich, assistant dean of pharmacy at the University of Findlay.
An opiate overdose essentially turns off the brain’s control of breathing. Naloxone replaces opiate molecules and revives the user, according to the National Institutes of Health. Blood vessels quickly absorb naloxone and its results are almost immediate, Stanovich said.
Either another user or a loved one is frequently close by when an overdose occurs, he said. They could administer naloxone.
“It’s unusual for someone to be abusing these substances alone,” Stanovich said.
The reality of drug treatment is that relapse is common, he said. Tolerance to a drug falls once the drug is removed, which makes returning to abuse especially dangerous, Stanovich said.
Stanovich said he disagrees with those who view naloxone as enabling additional abuse.
“A life is a life, and life is worth saving,” he said.
Naloxone’s legal expansion allows more potential distribution in the area, said Zachary Thomas, director of wellness and education for the Hancock County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board.
“It opens up the possibility, community-wide, for us to have access to that,” Thomas said.
Hanco Ambulance staff carry naloxone, but officials there do not yet plan to publicly distribute it, said Megan James, a spokeswoman for Blanchard Valley Health System.
Findlay Health Department last year reported five fatal overdoses. Blanchard Valley Hospital emergency room staff handled 118 overdose visits, Thomas said.
Barb Wilhelm, the city’s deputy health commissioner, said naloxone is part of a larger approach to stopping drug use before it’s fatal.
“If you could have saved those five people, they’re priceless to the family it affects,” Wilhelm said.
The Portsmouth City Health Department, which tested an early program of wider naloxone use, reversed 28 deaths thanks to the drug, she said.
Naloxone has been used in emergency rooms for about 40 years, Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm said the Hancock County Opiate/Prescription Drug Task Force, which she is a member of, may consider options to spread naloxone.
“When we’re looking at drug overdose, time is of the essence,” Wilhelm said.
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