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Making Narcan accessible will save lives

This is the second in a four-part series on the growing problem of heroin addiction in our communities.

State troopers in Rhode Island and Vermont have been carrying a drug that quickly revives a person suffering the effects of accidental heroin overdose. Gov. Deval Patrick this spring used emergency powers to make the drug - naloxone, also known as Narcan - available to all Massachusetts emergency first responders. In New York City, a recent $1.2 million program provided 19,500 doses of naloxone to police officers throughout the five boroughs.

With heroin use increasing and encompassing segments of the population not previously associated with it, many states and cities are acting swiftly and decisively to save lives by making Narcan more readily available. In Connecticut, however, although an average of one person dies each day of an accidental opioid overdose, officials have not acted as swiftly and many emergency responders still do not have Narcan available.

The Connecticut State Police, using money from asset forfeitures taken from crime suspects, only recently completed Narcan administration training and expect all troopers in the field to be carrying it by the middle of this month.

In the case of Narcan, Connecticut's reputation as a land of steady habits is having deadly consequences.

Overdoses from substances ranging from heroin to oxycodone are killing more of the state's residents than are motor vehicle accidents. Yet a person can walk into a Walgreens or CVS in Rhode Island and purchase a Narcan kit over the counter, while in Connecticut, those struggling with addiction, or their family members or friends, can obtain Narcan only via a physician's prescription.

This process is unjustifiably cautious and unrealistic. The overwhelming stigma associated with addiction leads many to cloak substance abuse in secrecy. It's unlikely enough of them could bring themselves to admit, even to a physician, they are hooked on pills or street drugs, even when such an admission could allow them the protection of a Narcan prescription.

Little training is required to safely administer Narcan via injection or nasal mist. The drug saves lives and emergency responders find it easier to use than the EpiPens, which have long been in wide use, saving lives by counteracting allergic reactions. An unresponsive person, whose breathing has slowed to a fatal level due to accidental overdose, can be revived and on their feet within a very short time after being administered Narcan - buying time to get them to the hospital for further treatment.

Physicians, drug counselors and officials at the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services are among the many calling for Connecticut to make Narcan more readily available.

In the spring, all emergency medical technicians in the state were granted the ability to administer the drug. However, without legislation, an executive order or a public grant to buy and distribute the drug, Narcan will often still not be available at the time and place it is most critically needed.

Legislators this year extended the so-called Good Samaritan law, granting criminal and civil immunity to anyone who administers Narcan in a lifesaving attempt. That was a welcomed step, but immunity won't save many lives if the drug is unavailable to would-be good Samaritans.

Narcan is not an alternative to health advocacy efforts aimed at preventing heroin and prescription opiod abuse. However, reversing the troubling trends will take time. Meanwhile, Connecticut confronts the reality that more residents than ever are becoming addicted to and are dying from overdoses. Making Narcan more available can save many of those lives and provide the hope of recovery.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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