WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder is calling the alarming increase in heroin-related overdose deaths an “urgent and growing public health crisis.” Holder is also calling for first responders to carry Narcan, a heroin antidote that, if administered promptly, can reverse the effects of an overdose.
“Addiction to heroin and other opiates, including certain prescription pain-killers, is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life — and all too often, with deadly results,” Holder said in the message.
According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of heroin overdose deaths increased by 45% between 2006 and 2010. Such staggering statistics have recently prompted several state governors to speak out the impact of heroin on their communities and enact programs in an attempt to address the problem.
This latest message from the Attorney General Holder in which he showed public support for wide accessibility for a heroin antidote that could be used to rescue overdosing drug users mirrors the White House drug policy office’s position. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske has also urged all first responders to have Narcan on hand. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia allow naloxone — commonly known by the brand name Narcan — to be distributed to the public, and bills are pending in some states to increase access to it.
Those advocating for the increased accessibility of Narcan say it can potentially save a lot of lives. The drug, which comes in both a spray and injectable form, can reverse a heroin overdose if it’s administered within a certain window. Critics of this policy say that making the antidote too accessible would only encourage drug use.
Holder said that law enforcement is also combatting the heroin problem and that efforts are being made to address supply and demand. Namely, by cutting off the supply chain that illegally supplies prescription painkillers to drug addicts. Holden admitted that more work is needed that focuses on the prevention and treatment of drug addiction.
“Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both,” he said.
Groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, which speak out about the failure of the war on drugs, advocate for the wider accessibility of Narcan and want to see it go further than just having first responders carry the antidote. The organization said in a statement that it believes the antidote should be made available to anyone who might be in a position to witness an overdose, such as a friend or relative of an addict.
They are also calling for the Justice Department to support better education when it comes to substance abuse and promote “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from prosecution when they call the police to report an overdose or transport a friend who is overdosing to the hospital. Several states have already enacted these Good Samaritan laws. In the past, many people died from overdosing on heroin because those witnessing the overdose were afraid to call for help for fear of arrest and prosecution.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.