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Prescription naloxone: a novel approach to heroin overdose prevention


The mortality and morbidity from heroin overdose have increased in the United States and internationally in the last decade. The lipid solubility allows the rapid deposition of heroin and its metabolites into the central nervous system and accounts for the "rush" experienced by users and for the toxicity. Risk factors for fatal and nonfatal heroin overdoses such as recent abstinence, decreased opiate tolerance, and polydrug use have been identified. Opiate substitution treatment such as methadone or buprenorphine is the only proven method of heroin overdose prevention. Death from a heroin overdose most commonly occurs 1 to 3 hours after injection at home in the company of other people. Numerous communities have taken advantage of this opportunity for treatment by implementing overdose prevention education to active heroin users, as well as prescribing naloxone for home use. Naloxone is a specific opiate antagonist without agonist properties or potential for abuse. It is inexpensive and nonscheduled and readily reverses the respiratory depression and sedation caused by heroin, as well as causing transient withdrawal symptoms. Program implementation considerations, legal ramifications, and research needs for prescription naloxone are discussed.

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