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Standing by with the heroin antidote

A spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner said Friday, Feb. 28, that Hoffman died from a mix of heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and benzodiazepines, which are psychoactive drugs. The death was ruled an accident. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from an overdose of heroin and prescription is a reminder that a drug we used to think of as “old school,” is back.

Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent: that’s 3,038 deaths.

But an even worse statistic from Attorney General Eric Holder was that the number of people trying heroin has exploded to 669,000. That’s a lot of desperate people, which means it may be time for desperate measures.

It’s common these days for parents and teachers to carry EpiPens to save children from sudden allergic reactions to bee stings, peanuts or something else.

And it turns out that since the 1960’s there has also been a way to quickly reduce the effects of a heroin overdose. It’s a drug called Naloxone that is carried by first responders.

But Megan Ralsten of the Joint Policy Alliance says paramedics aren’t the only ones who need it these days.

“In many cases it’s not police or paramedics who were the first people at the scene. It’s the friend or the family member,” said Ralsten.

At least 17 states now allow Naloxone to be distributed to the public and similar bills are pending in other states. The idea being that if you have a friend with an addiction, it’s probably a good idea to have some handy.

Critics wonder if it might actually give addicts a false sense of security. Ideally, Ralsten would like to see more addicts get treatment before their addictions get that far.

“We’re not doing a good job of doing some basic education around drug use and drug safety,” she added.

But all of us have had the anti-drug message drilled into our heads since we were kids. If heroin users haven’t gotten the message by now – there may be nothing else to do for them than standby with the antidote.

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