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Harm Reduction: Boston About to Move to Supply Addicts with Heroin Antidote

Boston public health authorities will likely approve a trial program providing heroin users with naloxone (brand name Narcan) next week, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday. If the Boston Public Health Commission indeed approves the program, it will join cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and New York where authorities have already approved its distribution to drug users.

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In many locales, only paramedics or hospital emergency rooms administer the drug, which can stop a heroin overdose from turning into an overdose death. But with Boston facing a high number of heroin overdose deaths -- fatal overdoses increased 50% between 1999 and 2003 -- city health officials want to put the drug where it can do the most good most quickly: in the hands of drug users.

"The number one hope with this is to save lives," Public Health Commission executive director Joel Auerbach told the Globe. "Our paramedics have said it's a miracle drug. They've seen people who are comatose who are then revived and perfectly fine."

The trial run is expected to enroll 100 heroin users, who would have to undergo training and evaluation, as well as listen to encouragements to quit. But if they were not prepared to stop using, they would be instructed in how to administer Narcan. Then they would be given a prescription for two doses.

The proposed move comes just a week after the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- the drug czar's office -- rejected the idea as somehow encouraging drug use. "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," ONDCP spokesperson Jennifer DeVallance told the AP.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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