Overdoses due to opioid drug use could be reduced if more emergency medical service (EMS) workers were allowed to administer the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, a new government study concludes.
Prescription opioids, including Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet, caused more than 16,000 deaths in the United States in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heroin, also an opioid, caused more than 8,000 deaths that year.
Naloxone is a prescription drug that has long been used by emergency rooms and paramedics.
Recently, the World Health Organization said increasing the availability of naloxone could prevent more than 20,000 deaths in the United States annually. Naloxone works quickly, without side effects.
In the new study, CDC researchers reviewed nationwide data and found advanced EMS workers were more likely than basic EMS workers to administer naloxone, HealthDay reports.
As of last year, only 12 states allowed basic EMS workers to administer naloxone for a suspected opioid overdose. All 50 states allowed advanced EMS workers to administer the antidote. The researchers recommended all EMS workers be trained to use naloxone, and that basic EMS personnel be given assistance to meet advanced certification requirements.
"Naloxone can be given nasally to a person suspected of overdose, allowing basic EMS staff to administer the drug without injection," CDC senior health scientist Mark Faul said in a news release. "Naloxone is nonaddictive, and expanding training on how to administer the drug can help basic emergency medical service staff reverse an opioid overdose and save more lives."
The opioid overdose death rate was 45 percent higher in rural areas than in urban areas, but the use of naloxone by rural EMS workers was only 22.5 percent higher than among their urban counterparts, the researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.