Overdose drug expansion considered in Colorado

DENVER (AP) — Access to a powerful drug that can stop drug overdoses could be expanded in Colorado.

The state Senate begins work Thursday on a bill to expand access to so-called "opioid antagonists," injected or inhaled drugs that can stop an opiate overdose by "freezing" the brain's receptors for opiates such as heroin or OxyContin. The drugs temporarily restore normal breathing so that overdosing addicts can be taken to a hospital. The drugs are commonly sold under the generic name naloxone.

Naloxone counteracts the effects of heroin, OxyContin and other powerful painkillers and has been routinely used by ambulance crews and emergency rooms in the U.S. for decades.

An opiate antagonist was famously depicted in the movie "Pulp Fiction," when a character injected an antagonist into the chest of an overdosing character. Naloxone counteracts the effects of heroin, OxyContin and other powerful painkillers and has been routinely used by ambulance crews and emergency rooms in the U.S. for decades.

Drug-treatment workers say Colorado should clarify in state law that non-physicians who see an overdosing addict can use naloxone without breaking the law.

"It's a life-saver," said Lisa Raville, director of Denver's Harm Reduction Action Center, a needle-exchange agency that helps addicts.

Naloxone works by blocking certain drug receptors in the brain. It has no effect on alcohol or cocaine overdoses but can be used against such painkillers as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.

Raville said that naloxone is routinely prescribed to addicts who wouldn't be able to use it to save their own lives. She pointed that naloxone was improperly depicted in "Pulp Fiction" — and should be injected into the legs or arms and not the chest — but that the movie makes one point clearly. That is that an overdosing drug-user isn't likely in any shape to administer naloxone on their own.

"What this bill does, it gives the mothers, the sisters, the homeless shelters that work with homeless addicts the ability to use this drug to save the lives of people at risk of an overdose," Raville said.

Naloxene expansion is backed by the national Drug Policy Alliance, which favors treating drug abuse as a public-health problem, not a criminal problem. Colorado's naloxone bill is an extension of a "Good Samaritan" drug law approved last year to encourage drug users to call for medical help if they see an overdose in a fellow drug-user.

The sponsor of that "Good Samaritan" drug law is also sponsoring the naloxone bill. Democratic Sen. Irene Aguilar, a Denver physician, said the antagonist expansion would continue Colorado's shift on drug policy to encourage treatment instead of prison for addicts.

"We're all looking at substance abuse as a disease that leads to crime," Aguilar said.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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Online:

Senate Bill 14: http://bit.ly/127KZir

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