June 4, 2009
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A pioneering Chicago program that allows opiate addicts and their friends to administer the anti-overdose medication naloxone to those in distress has been replicated in 17 states, Time magazine reported May 29.
The Chicago Recovery Alliance has distributed more than 11,000 anti-overdose kits through needle-exchange programs and other sites. In an least 1,000 instances, friends and fellow drug users have administered naloxone (Narcan) to overdosing opiate users, saving hundreds of lives, according to Chicago Recovery Alliance head Dan Bigg.
Narcan is commonly used in emergency rooms and by EMTs to stop overdoses in progress, but distributing the drug to addicts allows for a faster response to a crisis and helps avoid the situation where users are afraid to call for help because they don’t want to be arrested for drug use.
Project Lazarus in North Carolina is one example of the naloxone-distribution campaigns being developed nationally. Such programs now exist in at least 17 states as well as the cities of New York, Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago.
Some critics say that naloxone programs encourage drug use, but to date the projects have not run into as much resistance as needle exchanges have. “I think people who study it up close realize that you could not have a purer case of a chance for life versus the risk of death,” said Bigg. Naloxone is considered a very safe drug, and recent research in the journal Addiction found that trained addicts administered the drug as effectively as medical professionals.
“We’ve got a medication that is incredibly effective at reversing overdoses,” said Wilson Compton, director of the Division of Epidemiological Services and Prevention Research for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “It makes good logical sense. I wish we had a rigorous evaluation of the benefits and potential risks.”