New overdose drug a tool in some local agencies’ battle with heroin

JOHNSTOWN – Some local first responders plan to carry and use a drug that can help prevent a heroin overdose from becoming fatal.

Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law new legislation that makes the anti-overdose drug naloxone, known commercially as Narcan, available to police and other first responders in the state. The drug can prevent overdose deaths related to the use of opiates, including heroin, hydrocodone and oxycodone.

The bill also allows health care providers to prescribe the drug and some pharmacists to dispense it to anyone in need.

The governor’s office says opioid addiction has become an increasing problem across the state and nation. In 2013, there were 89,269 cases of heroin and prescription opiate treatment admissions in New York state, an increase from 63,793 in 2004, according to Cuomo’s office.

Montgomery County Undersheriff Peter Vroman said his department will receive the antidote, and every road deputy will be carrying a kit with naloxone.

Vroman praised the effort. He said the Sheriff’s Department will receive training in how to use the drug soon.

“I think it is something that is needed,” Vroman said.

He said his department has seen an increase in the number of people arrested with heroin on them. He said he’s unaware of anyone in his department coming across an incident in which a person needed the antidote.

Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey said his department also has seen an increase in the number of suspects caught with heroin.

“It’s now the drug of choice in this area,’ Lorey said.

Lorey said the sheriff’s office probably will receive naloxone eventually.

He said the Sheriff’s Department works closely with local emergency medical personnel, who would have the drug if it were needed at a scene.

Lorey said he’s concerned about potential liability issues when non-medical personnel give the drug.

Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps President Lucas Paszkiewicz said his ambulance service already has been using the drug.

He said it has been a standing order for JAVAC to carry the drug.

Paszkiewicz said he supports the idea of giving this drug to first responders across the state.

“[Naloxone] works very well,” Paszkiewicz said.

Gloversville Police Chief Donald VanDuesen said the city has not received the antidote yet. He said he is not certain if his department will participate, since the Fulton County Ambulance service is next door to the police station.

VanDuesen declined to give his thoughts on the new law.

Gloversville police in October said heroin use was up in Gloversville.

Heroin has become cheaper and more available in recent years.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Mexican traffickers have expanded into the eastern and midwestern U.S. markets.

Sheriff Lorey said heroin is now cheaper than marijuana in the area.

According to the National Institutes of Drug Abuse, people can inject, snort or smoke heroin.

Another part of the new state law would launch an awareness campaign targeted at public colleges and universities through working with the state police.

Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger said he would be interested in working with the state on raising drug awareness in the community. He said the college currently works with local agencies on alcohol and drug awareness for students.

“We all know heroin use is on the incline across the entire population,” Swanger said.

Swanger said he would be interested in looking into getting naloxone for the public safety office at the campus in case of emergencies.

The law also gives “Good Samaritan” status to people who administer an opioid antagonist such as naloxone. This would mean someone who gave the drug to someone who was overdosing would face no charges for giving it.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus, naloxone can be given through an injection or by using a nasal spray. It works by blocking the effects of opiates to relieve dangerous symptoms caused by high levels of opiates in the blood.

Naloxone is also given to people after surgery to reverse the effects of opiates given during surgery. The drug also can be used to decrease opiate effects on newborns.

Some forms of the injectable drug include an electronic voice system that provides step-by-step directions on how to give the drug.