Local first responders and healthcare professionals say widespread use of the heroin overdose reversal drug is a life saving step -- and a sign of the times.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, opiate overdoses have actually surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in this country.
Which is why the FDA has approved the at-home use of the drug naloxone that civilians can now use to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.
And some say the approval couldn’t come soon enough.
“They adjust the purity of the heroin every now and then,” said LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan. “They’ll send a real pure batch through and the people will take the same amount of the poor quality stuff -- and that kills them instantly.”
Police often refer to these potent supplies as a “hot batch.”
“If we get one heroin overdose today, we would suspect that I’d get one or two later in the week,” said Randy Magdalinski, St. Joseph’s County Coroner.
And that’s what makes heroin use all the more life-threatening.
“Almost everyone that I have had come in that’s used heroin thats had an addiction to it has overdosed at some point and has had to use emergency services to get revived,” said Therapist Pam Forsey of Crossroads Counseling in South Bend. “It will happen at some point if they continue to use heroin.”
The overdose has to do with the way the heroin interrupts the impulses from the brain that tell you to keep breathing.
“You stop breathing first, your skin turns blue,” said Sullivan. “When your respirations quit, about 3 or 4 minutes down, your pulse will quit also because your pulse can only take so much.”
Nalaxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, works to reverse that respiratory failure.
“I’ve seen it bring people around in as little as 15 seconds,” Sullivan said. “And that goes from blue to being about to talk in as little as 15 seconds.”
Only paramedics can deliver the drug through an IV, but many first responders now have access to the drug in the form of a nasal spray.
“It acts a little bit different it takes a little bit longer to take affect but the side effects are less you don’t have to worry about it that much,” Magdalinski said.
Health professionals say this latest move by the FDA -- putting it in the hands of those who actually witness the overdose -- is the most effective way to save lives.
“If you’ve got a potentially life saving medication out there the point is get it to that person as early as you possibly can to save a life,” Magdalinski said.