Methamphetamine may still be the most-abused drug in the United States — and a huge drain on law enforcement resources — but heroin is coming up fast in competition. A newly approved medical device to aid in saving lives threatened by heroin overdoses will likely be appearing in some cops’ war bags soon.
There has been a big resurgence in heroin mainly because a legitimate prescription drug — Oxycontin — is now much more difficult to obtain. Oxycontin — also known by its generic name, oxycodone — is a semi-synthetic opioid painkiller. It comes in both immediate and controlled-release forms. The controlled-release variant is the more popular for drug abusers, as they crush the time-release tablets to get the effect of a 12-hour dose instantly.
The drug is so popular among poorer populations that it’s known in some circles as “hillbilly heroin.”
This market expansion is producing record numbers of heroin overdoses. Pharmaceutical oxycodone comes in doses of reliable strength, so users know how many pills they need to satisfy their habit. The strength of street heroin varies widely, and the dealer’s representation of its potency is unreliable at best. It’s no surprise that most cities are seeing surges in heroin overdoses.
A New Treatment Option for ODs
It’s a daunting challenge for cops, but there is a new device that offers promise in keeping ODs alive.
The new device approved by the FDA is called Evzio, and it specializes in delivering the treatment of choice for opiate overdoses, Narcan, which is also known by its generic name of naloxone. An opioid antagonist that blocks opioid receptors in the central nervous system, naloxone negates the effects of any opiates present, and they’re excreted in the urine.
The effect is dramatic and almost instantaneous. Drug-seeking patients in emergency rooms have been known to experience miraculous recoveries when Narcan or naloxone is mentioned, as they will experience withdrawal effects almost immediately if they receive the drug.
Evzio comes in a self-contained package about the size of a cigarette pack. Activated, it plays back verbal instructions for use, so little medical training is needed to use the device.
Most people are acquainted with epinephrine auto-injectors for people with severe allergies to bee stings or foods. The Evzio device functions in much the same way. The user removes a safety guard, presses it against a large muscle surface like the thigh, and pushes a button to inject the drug.
Law enforcement agencies will probably be the largest market for Evzio. Cops are often the first responders to arrive at the scene of an overdose, when getting the antagonist drug into the victim’s system is critical. In the time it might take for a fire or EMS crew to arrive, the victim could die.
Good Early Results
The Quincy (Mass.) police have been carrying a form of naloxone administered nasally since October 2010. As of February 2014, they had administered the drug 221 times, successfully reversing overdoses on 211 of those cases.
Police in Ocean County (Del.) have also started carrying the nasally-administered version of the drug.
Nasally-administered naloxone kits cost about $25 each.
Kaléo has not announced the price of the Evzio devices.