Drug to reverse effects of overdose sees expanded use - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Drug to reverse effects of overdose sees expanded use

Eric Specht Eric Specht
Nicholas Specht (Source: Eric Specht) Nicholas Specht (Source: Eric Specht)
Van Ingram Van Ingram
State Rep. Tom Burch State Rep. Tom Burch
Dr. Jeremy Engel Dr. Jeremy Engel

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - As communities across Kentuckiana struggle to deal with an opiate addiction problem in the form of heroin and prescription pills, a medication called naloxone that has been around since the 1960s is finding a new, life-saving use. 

Just this week, Indianapolis police announced, as part of a pilot program, officers would start carrying naloxone, the medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose. It's already in use in Kentucky, but lawmakers are fighting to put it in the hands of more people. 

"I'm sorry, I found our son in our bathroom and if I had had naloxone, he could very well be here today," said Eric Specht, who shared his heartbreak with Kentucky lawmakers.

After his son Nicholas died last year of a heroin overdose, Specht is now one of a growing number of Kentuckians who know the deadly cost of the drug.

"Thirty percent of the deaths heroin is involved in and I think it was 3% two years ago, that's pretty significant," said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

Ingram is working to find solutions. One of the more obvious: a drug called naloxone. It's marketed under the brand name Narcan and stops the effects of heroin or other opiates in the brain, reversing the overdose and hopefully preventing a death.

"For every one that we can stop, that's meaningful," Ingram said.

"I don't know many addicts but I did know from a very good friend of mine's son who died of an overdose that it has some merit," said State Representative Tom Burch (D-District 30, Louisville).

Burch sponsored a bill in 2010 and again in 2012, when it finally passed in Kentucky. It allows doctors to prescribe Narcan to family members of addicts to have on hand, just in case.  Supporters liken it to having an EpiPen on for anaphylaxis.

"The intent was that anyone who needed that drug would have access to it," said Burch.

"It's not a controlled substance. It doesn't work on anybody unless they have opiods in them," explained Dr. Jeremy Engel, a Northern Kentucky family physician, about naloxone.

Engel has become one of the leaders in the fight against opiates and helping those who abuse them.

"If people fall into the river and they're drowning, I want to pull them out whether they fall into the river again or not," said Engel.

This year, lawmakers are pushing to extend the current Kentucky law to put Narcan in the hands of police officers, firefighters and EMTs in departments that choose to do so.

"I was in law enforcement for 24 years," Ingram said. "We're not all just about arresting people. We want to help people and when we can save lives, we want to do that."

Some critics say readily available Narcan encourages addicts to continue to abuse. Ingram says it saves them so they'll be around to get into treatment.

"If they've passed away," said Ingram, "there's no chance they'll ever be productive and they leave behind the scars of that."

Narcan is widely used by emergency responders in some other states. Dr. Engel said in some cases, where areas have given it out to high-risk populations, they've seen a 50% reduction in the number of overdose deaths.

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