Friday, April 25, 2008

In the News: Legislative changes can cut overdose deaths

Chris Farley. Heath Ledger. Anna Nicole Smith and her son, Daniel. Each died of accidental drug overdoses.

But celebrities are not the only ones dying that way. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 23,000 people died of accidental drug overdoses in 2005, the last year for which we have comprehensive data. This tops the number of homicides that year (18,000). Overdose deaths have been on the rise. Nearly 1,000 people died of accidental drug overdose in 2006, making it the fourth-leading cause of death among adults in New York City, after heart disease, cancer and AIDS.

The state Legislature can take three immediate steps to reduce accidental overdose deaths.

*Make naloxone more widely available. Naloxone is a short-acting opiate antagonist that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose, including heroin and prescription opiates such as oxycodone. A few years ago, New York legislators made naloxone widely available for prescription and distribution by medical providers to active drug users. Extending medical standing orders to naloxone prescription could further expand access, and FDA approval of intranasal naloxone and over-the-counter sales of the near-harmless drug (which has a low potential for abuse) could assure wider accessibility across the country.

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