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Maine Lawmakers Consider Heroin Overdose Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a prescription treatment that can be used by family members or caregivers to help reverse the effects of a heroin or other opioid overdose. Known as Evzio, the hand-held injection device rapidly administers a single dose of the drug naloxone in an emergency. The action comes as lawmakers prepare to take up a bill that would make naloxone more widely available in Maine.

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Nalaxone is a medication that is the standard treatment for reversing the effects of overdose. But existing naloxone drugs require administration via syringe which is most commonly done by trained medical personnel in the emergency room or on ambulance crews. Evzio makes it easier through a pocket-sized auto injector. Similar to an EpiPen that can be used to stop an allergic reaction, the device is injected into the muscle or under the skin. Once it's turned on, there are verbal instructions to guide the user about how to deliver the medication. FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg calls it "an important innovation that will save lives." And Rep. Sara Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport, hopes that endorsement will be a big boost for her bill that's expected to be voted on in the Maine Legislature next week.

"It is the FDA agreeing with us and with what many other states have done in saying that this drug can and should be used" Gideon said. "It doesn't just have to be used by professionals in the medical field. By designing this specific device, it's designed to be used by non-professionals."

Gideon's bill would make naloxone prescriptions more widely available to family members of opiate addicts and others who may find themselves in an emergency situation. For several years, drug overdose deaths in Maine have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of injury death. And they have recently become a major public health concern around the country. Naloxone has been part of the federal government's drug control strategy for two years. Last year, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would have make it more accessible. But at a recent news conference, the governor said he's not opposed to naloxone, he just has concerns about putting it into the hands of anyone except medical professionals.

"I think we need to treat, Let's deal with the treatment, the proper treatment and not say, Go overdose, and oh, by the way, if you do I'll be there to save you," said LePage. "I think we need to deal with the bigger, basic problem of drug addiction, drug trafficking and drug abuse in the state. That's all I'm interested in."

Gideon said the FDA's approval of this device could help ease some of the concerns she's heard about the difficulty of administering naloxone. But even the FDA points out that it is not a substitute for immediate medical care and that the person administering Evzio should see further, immediate medical attention on the patient's behalf.


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