By James Niedzinski
---- — Less than a week after a Gloucester man died of a suspected heroin overdose, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey is asking the state and the federal government to invest in naloxone, the drug marketed under the name Narcan and one known as being able to temporarily reverse the effect of an opiate overdose.
The Massachusetts Democrat wrote to the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, asking questions about what it would take to expand the use of naloxone and posed other questions revolving around opiate addiction.
In line with the death on Warner Street last week, other heroin overdoses were reported around the same time across the North Shore, as well as other parts of New England and the Northeast.
Markey’s Feb. 11 letter also marked the same day President Barack Obama’s administration called for first responders to carry naloxone or Narcan.
”Given the worrisome increase of opioid abuse and the terrible burden to communities of preventable deaths from overdose and the great successes demonstrated in Massachusetts, I am eager to see bystander and first-responder nasal naloxone programs expanded in Massachusetts and also across the nation,” Markey wrote.
While naloxone was not used in the Warner Street incident — the victim was unresponsive when police and paramedics arrived — Gloucester first responders do carry it with them. In one instance, Gloucester responders used it twice on the way to Addison Gilbert Hospital to revive a 21/2-year-old girl after the toddler was believed to have ingested part of a Suboxone pill in the home.
According to October 2013 figures, naloxone has reversed 2,300 overdoses in the state, Markey said.
He also asked Sebelius what programs and resources the DHHS has in place to fund expansions of naloxone to both emergency personnel and bystanders, how to further naloxone training, potential barriers to increasing naloxone accessibility and national statistics on the drug.
Gloucester emergency crews are not the only ones on Cape Ann working with the drug.
Essex fire Chief Dan Doucette said first responders there are in training at Beverly Hospital to learn how to administer the drug.
”It’s a good idea,” he said.
”It’s beneficial; it does work,” he added.
The drug has already been a staple in Manchester, where paramedic and fire Chief Glen Rogers said he’s had to use the drug in the field around 100 times throughout his career.
In Manchester, he said, naloxone is only needed one or two times a year, but there is a push to get it in the hands of family members or friends of opiate addicts and addicts themselves.
He said the move to have naloxone in the hands of police was an innovative one, as is the case in Gloucester.
”The side effects are fairly minimal, and the results are maximal,” he added.
In Rockport, paramedics are trained how to use naloxone, and it should be stocked in ambulances fairly soon, according to Rosemary Lesch, head of the Rockport Ambulance Department.
“We’re ready to move to forward with it,” she said.
While Narcan is in Rockport and the professionals are trained, the town must go through some more paperwork from the state to use it.
And while Lesch said overdoses in Rockport are rare, they can happen from time to time.
“When you need it, you need it,” she said. “It’s good to have that on board.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-675-2708 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.