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Local rescuers rely on Narcan to help overdose victims

Tuesday - 3/11/2014, 5:27am  ET

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Lt. Kristine Piazza, with Prince George's County Fire and EMS., holds a dose of Narcan, which is used to revive patients who have an opiate overdose. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

LANDOVER HILLS, Md. - Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that he would like to see law enforcement trained on and equipped with Naloxone, a medicine used to treat drug overdoses.

While police officers might not carry it in the D.C. area, all ambulances do. . Naloxone goes by several names, and many D.C. area paramedics know it as Narcan. Prince George's County Fire and EMS has used the remedy for years.

"Narcan is a opiate antagonist. It's used to counteract the side effects of an opiate overdose," says Lt. Kristine Piazza with Prince George's County Fire and EMS.

Naloxone helps victims who have overdosed on drugs, such as heroin, morphine, Dilaudid, fentanyl, oxycodone, Demerol, codeine and methadone. Piazza says she has used the drug many times on patients in the field.

"It binds to the opiate receptors and it prevents the central nervous system from taking the opiate," she says.

When someone has overdosed he usually is "unresponsive, very slow respiration, pinpoint pupils, that's usually the tell-tale sign," she says.

"If you are the victim of opiate overdose and your central nervous system is significantly depressed, you can stop breathing...essentially you can die very quickly, 4 to 6 minutes."

Narcan will be administered either through a shot, IV or through a nasal spray.

"It works very quickly, within a matter of minutes," Piazza says.

But not all victims are thankful.

Piazza remembers one man, whom she had treated several times.

"After we gave him the Narcan he woke, called me by name, and was a little upset with me because essentially we got rid of his high."

Piazza says it would be a great idea if police officers were equipped with the medicine.

"It's very easy to use and it would be very easy to teach someone how to use it," she says.

She would also support communities going a step further.

"I read that there are some states that will go into areas that they know that they have a high abuse of heroin and they will actually train family members and friends and they will give them prescription Narcan. I don't think that's a bad idea."

Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, says Naloxone in the hands of police officers can provide speedy help in suburban areas.

"In areas where there is no wide spread Naloxone distribution, where medical response is quite a ways away, rural areas, suburban areas, it can be quite important to have police carrying Naloxone," Banta-Green says.

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