Federal health regulators have approved a drug overdose treatment device that experts say will provide a powerful lifesaving tool in the midst of a surging epidemic of prescription drug abuse, reports the New York Times. Similar to an EpiPen used to stop allergic reactions to bee stings, the easy-to-use injector, which is small enough to tuck into a pocket or a medicine cabinet, can be used by the relatives or friends of people who have overdosed. The hand-held device, called Evzio, delivers a single dose of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose, and will be used on those who have stopped breathing or lost consciousness from an opioid drug overdose. Naloxone is the standard treatment in such circumstances, but until now, has been available mostly in medical settings when it is often used too late to save the patient.
The decision to approve the new treatment, expected to be available this summer, comes as deaths from opioids mount, including an increase from heroin, which contributed to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February. Federal health officials, facing criticism for failing to slow the death toll, are under pressure to act. “This is a big deal, and I hope gets wide attention,” said Dr. Carl Sullivan of the addictions program at West Virginia University. “It's pretty simple: Having these things in the hands of people around drug addicts just makes sense because you're going to prevent unnecessary mortality.” Dr. Nathaniel Katz, assistant professor of anesthesia at Tufts University School of Medicine, said, “We have 17,000 fatal opioid overdoses every year. You can potentially prevent a chunk of them with this technique.”