Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency to combat the growing abuse of opiates, directing that all the state's police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel be equipped with a drug that can quickly reverse heroin overdoses, the Boston Globe reports. “Heroin today is cheap and highly potent,” Patrick said. “We have right now an opiate epidemic.” Using his emergency powers, Patrick told the Department of Public Health to make Narcan available immediately to all first responders, as well as more accessible to families and friends of drug abusers. Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, halts overdoses almost instantly.
Many first responders have been barred from administering the drug by state regulations written before the opiate crisis. Patrick said the state will prohibit the sale of Zohydro, which he called “a potentially lethal narcotic painkiller.” The drug was approved last year in a controversial decision by the Food and Drug Administration. Patrick said the powerful drug, which is not yet made in tamper-proof form, will be banned until safeguards are implemented. The governor pledged to spend $20 million more to increase treatment and recovery services for the public, state prisons, and county jails. The moves were applauded by state officials and first responders, who have been startled by an alarming increase in heroin overdoses. The Globe reported last month that at least 185 people died of heroin overdoses between November and February.