A new medical device that could save thousands of lives by preventing opioid overdoses was approved Thursday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The hand-held auto-injector is designed for family and caregivers to administer a single dose of a drug called naloxone, which rapidly reverses the effects of heroin and other opioids.
Called Evzio, the emergency treatment works like the well-known EpiPen — an epinephrine auto-injector for serious allergic reactions — as it is injected into the muscle and does not require training, making it more user-friendly. Once injected, the naloxone stops heroin and other opioids from slowing a person’s breathing down to the point that it stops.
The FDA approved the prescription treatment after just 15 weeks under priority status.
Naloxone has long been used in ambulances and hospitals, but Evzio now allows nonmedical personnel to carry the drug in a pocket or to store it in a medicine cabinet.
As use of the new tool becomes more widespread, New York state is doing its part to help combat the epidemic.
That was New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s message Thursday as he announced a new program to provide all state law enforcement officers with naloxone and train them to use it. It’s the first state in the nation to do so, using $5 million in seized drug money to fund their Community Overdose Prevention (COP) program.
Currently, most law enforcement agencies are using the nasal spray version of the antidote, which is slightly different than the auto-injector.
It comes in a kit that costs about $60. With a shelf life of two years, every kit has two pre-filled syringes of the drug, along with other items to help use it safely.
Schneiderman says using naloxone allows victims to be brought back “from the brink of death and buys more time to get to a hospital.”
Noting that there were more than 2,000 opioid overdoses in New York in 2011, Schneiderman said, “It isn’t every day that we can announce that we will save lives.”
More than 500 lives were saved last year in Suffolk County, where police officers have been part of a pilot program since 2012 to carry naloxone, Schneiderman said.
The antidote saved the life of Angie Ruhry’s son, Peter, in 2009. Though he died 18 months later, Ruhry said “Those 18 months were a gift. Anyone that’s lost a loved one knows that even one more day is a gift.”
She emphasized her support of the program, saying, “People are dying and we have this powerful tool to save lives in the midst of the epidemic.”