Heroin-related overdose deaths have been on the rise in the city for the past two years, up 84 percent between 2010 and 2012, and new legislation is in the works to make overdose reversals more readily available to those who need it. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in New York City. The one cure that brings those succumbing to an opioid-fueled overdose back to life is the drug naloxone.
"It can be administered easily," says Dr. Hillary Kunins, the city's deputy health commissioner for drug use prevention, care and treatment. "It is very safe medication. There are no long-term adverse side effects."
There are only about 100 sites statewide that are certified to dispense naloxone through New York's Opioid Overdose Prevention Program.
Brooklyn's After Hours Project is one of the 52 city participants.
"There's a formulation where you can do an intramuscular injection either in the shoulder or in the thigh, or there's a formulation where you can squirt it up their nose," says Michael Duncan, a physician assistant with the After Hours Project.
Duncan can only train at After Hours two days a week.
Right now, naloxone, which is included in state-issued overdose prevention kits, is only available through a prescription and training from a doctor, a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant.
"The person doesn't have to be breathing for this to work," Duncan says.
Heroin and other opioids like oxycodone suppress the respiratory system. Naloxone reverses that effect, causing a person in active overdose to spontaneously breathe.
The city Department of Health is calling on state lawmakers to increase access to naloxone. A bill making its way through the state legislature would allow laypersons, such as trained staff at After Hours, to dispense naloxone once they've received the OK from a prescriber.
"This will tremendously enable programs to scale up and reach folks at risk more easily," Kunins says.
It means that more family members of drug users and those stuck in addiction themselves could be trained to administer naloxone.
"Having to find someone and pay for someone's prescribing authority is a big bottleneck to getting this out to where it's needed the most," Duncan says.
Since the state program launched in 2006, 650 overdose reversals have been reported.