Doctors and first responders told KRCG 13 Thursday a new law letting first responders carry a powerful heroin antidote will likely save lives.
Scott Schultz, a doctor who worked in emergency rooms for 8 years, said he has seen the antidote's effects firsthand. He said the antidote, called naloxone, works almost instantly.
"It works incredibly fast. Under a minute," he said.
Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill Thursday morning that will allow any first responder, such as a firefighter, police officer or emergency medical technician, to carry naloxone and give a dose to someone who has overdosed on an opiate like heroin. Currently, paramedics are the only emergency personnel able to do this in the field. The bill passed the General Assembly without a dissenting vote and is similar to bills signed into law earlier this year by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. According to the CDC, naloxone was first distributed to medical personnel in 1996. By mid-2010, it had been used to reverse 10,171 overdoses nationwide.
Schultz said narcotics kill by blocking the receptors in the brain that control breathing. Naloxone prevents narcotics from blocking those receptors. He said the amount of narcotics the person has taken dictates how quickly they need the antidote. In most cases, the overdoses are small enough that the person's breathing rate declines slowly, giving professionals more time to act. According to the National Institutes of Health, naloxone is harmless if it is given to someone who is not suffering an overdose and is given to babies to counter the effects of opiate painkillers given to the mother during delivery.
Heroin deaths are rising in Missouri and across the country. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 69 Missourians died from heroin overdoses in 2007. By 2011. that number had jumped to at least 244. The Centers for Disease Control reports more than 4,000 Americans died from heroin overdoses that year.
The bill requires any first responder who is issued naloxone to be trained in its use. Gale Blomenkamp, of the Boone County Fire Protection District, said victims who are given naloxone can go from unconscious and not breathing to conscious and breathing in a matter of seconds. Consequently, they can become confused and combative if they are given a dose too quickly. The drug is vulnerable to temperature extremes, so he said first responders will need to figure out how to protect doses. Blomenkamp cautioned that naloxone only works against opiates, so it is useless against drugs like cocaine.
Schultz said he is not sure how many deaths the new law will prevent, but he sees no point in limiting first responders' access to naloxone.
"This is a cheap drug. It's easy to administer. It's easy to use. There are no side effects," he said.
The new law takes effect on Aug. 28.