The FDA approved a medication more than forty years ago that counteracts the effect of overdoses from opiate drugs like Vicodin or heroin. It's called, Narcan, and chances are you haven't heard of it unless you know someone who has overdosed.
As WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil reports, the state Senate may approve a bill Tuesday night that would expand who can get a prescription for Narcan. There's been a movement in Connecticut in the last several years among parent groups who've been affected by drug abuse. Current law only allowed a doctor to prescribe Narcan to a drug user but parents wanted Narcan to be given to them or close friends of an addict. These parents say there's no way their child would be able to administer Narcan if he or she overdosed. Just ask Susan Milton of Prospect whose son overdosed in her home in 2004. "There were noises coming from his room and I opened the door and he was blue. He was cold. He was swollen. There was vomit coming out of his mouth. And what he was doing I found out afterwards is what they call Cheyne Stoke breathing, it's your last breaths." Her daughter heard Milton screaming and called 9-1-1. Soon the EMTs arrived and then the paramedics Milton said it felt like an eternity as they worked on her son. "And they gave him one shot of Narcan and he did not respond. Then they gave him a second shot of Narcan and he did not respond. I learned since they usually only give two and they bring you to the hospital. For some reason they gave him a third shot of Narcan and he walked down the stairs a half an hour later. He was still out of it but he was alive." Her son had overdosed on heroin. Narcan brought him back because it's an opioid antagonist. When injected or given intranasally, it blocks the receptors activated by heroin or other opiates. Within minutes it can restore breathing. Supporters say Narcan is much like an Epipen that a parent carries for a child who has a life-threatening allergy. Narcan is one of many medications paramedics carry when responding to calls.Bill McGovern, Supervisor of paramedics and EMTs with Hunter's Ambulance of Meriden shows me Narcan inside the ambulance bay. "Here's all the different medications we would have. And here's your Narcan. So it's right there, two milligrams." In the last three years, McGovern says his paramedics administered Narcan almost four-hundred times. He says the bill that will expand Narcan access to more people raises questions. "I personally have some concern that we wouldn't be called. If it's not just a heroin or narcotic overdose what if there's another co-morbid condition that's going along with that and we get delayed in that response. Or they can't get that person back with just the Narcan administration, we have been delayed in our response." But supporters say the bill is an important first step to encourage health care providers to prescribe Narcan to people who can help an addict. Drug overdoses are a concern in the state. From 2005 to 2009, almost two-thousand Connecticut residents died from drug induced deaths. The legislation also releases family and friends who administers Narcan from liability which has been a concern. Connecticut is behind other states on the issue. Illinois, New Mexico, and Washington State already have laws that expand Narcan access. And there are more than one-hundred programs nationwide including in Quincy, Massachusetts that go even further, giving Narcan free of charge to addiction support groups who in turn educate families on use of the overdose antidote. Kathy Deady of group, End Drug Abuse Now, knows the positives of Narcan access firsthand. "We have testimony from parents that have saved their own children with it. I carry it, I keep it in my car even though my son has been clean two and half years. If sombody calls me and is in crisis and their kid is using heroin and don't know what to do, right away we train them and they have it in their house." Susan Milton of Prospect, Connecticut says if the law had allowed it back when her son overdosed, she knows someone in her family would have been able to administer Narcan. After the overdose, he was in and out of rehab centers. Several years later, he's married with two children. But Milton says he doesn't speak to her anymore. "I think when you go on this path and we all aim for the pot of gold at the end, we had hoped to put our family back together and have some semblance of normalcy whatever that is. And its not there. Its heart wrenching. It's tough to grieve someone when they're still alive." Milton says Narcan gave her son a chance at recovery. And she's hopeful one day their family will recover, too.