After more than 400 overdose deaths nationwide from heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl, some needle-exchange programs are starting to give addicts prescriptions for a drug to keep on hand to counteract an overdose, reports the Associated Press. The antidote – naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan – can save the life of someone who might not call 911 for fear of prosecution, some treatment providers say.
But others say naloxone is best administered by trained paramedics and that distributing it by prescription might appear to condone drug use. “We don’t want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin,” said Jennifer DeVallance, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Fentanyl – an opiate used legally in anesthesia and for the relief of some cancer patients – is cheaper than heroin and 40 to 100 times more potent than morphine. That makes it an appealing additive for heroin distributors. At least 150 fentanyl deaths have been recorded in the Philadelphia region, 130 in the Chicago area, and 130 in the Detroit area.