Controversial overdose antidote may hit national market

Narcan, a drug previously only available to EMTs, may now be available to civilians trained to use it nationwide

By Dave Wedge
The Boston Herald

BOSTON —More than 250 Hub drug addicts have been rescued thanks to a program that trains relatives how to use an anti-overdose treatment - and now access to the controversial antidote could be expanding nationwide thanks to support from the Obama administration.

'We want people to get the help they need to overcome addiction, but we have to get rid of the shame and stigma that often gets in the way,' Mayor Thomas M. Menino said.

Dozens of relatives of overdose victims and survivors, as well as drug treatment officials and lawmakers, are expected at an 'overdose vigil' tonight in Copley Square. The 7 p.m. event is part of a national effort to raise awareness of opiate abuse and highlight programs that put the anti-overdose drug Narcan in the hands of junkies' relatives.

'The vigil is a chance for folks in the community ... to support one another and prevent these needless tragedies from happening,' Menino said.

In 2006, Boston was one of the first cities in the nation to offer civilian training in the use of Narcan, a prescription drug that counteracts the effects of opiates during an overdose. The drug had previously only been carried by EMTs.

'It's been essential,' said Sarah Mackin, a harm reduction specialist with the Boston Public Health Commission. 'It's a life-saving tool.'

While cops and EMTs have complained the drug should not be in the hands of civilians, President Obama's drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, last week called for wider public distribution. The federal Food and Drug Administration is considering making Narcan an over-the-counter drug, while there is a bill pending in Congress to fund more programs.

BPHC officials said 2,500 people have been trained to use Narcan in Boston, which has led to 250 overdose reversals. Statewide, 15,000 people have been trained and 1,500 overdoses have been thwarted, officials said.

'We've had many success stories,' said Jan Quiram, co-director of the BPHC's addiction services unit.

City health officials also hailed a new state law signed by Gov. Deval Patrick earlier this year that offers immunity from prosecution for people who call 911 for an overdose. The Copley vigil comes on the heels of a spate of fatal overdoses and a spike in opiate-fueled crime in South Boston.

Copyright 2012 Boston Herald Inc.

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