There’s an effort in Michigan to increase the availability of a medication that can reverse the effects of a drug overdose, saving a person’s life.

Naloxone Hydrochloride or Narcan is only available with a prescription in Michigan.  It’s used in ambulances and paramedics more and more often as overdosing deaths have quadrupled nationwide in the past 15 years.

Dr. Richard Tooker is the medical director for the Allegan County Health Department.  He’s been working with doctors and health organizations to get control of the prescription narcotic problem at every level, from the ones prescribing the pills to the ones using them.

“They’re being inundated with people demanding treatment for pain,” said Tooker of his physician colleagues.  “Yet we’re having too many people overdose and die.”

In 2010, more than 60 people died from an overdose in Kent County, down about ten from the previous year.

Steve Alsum might have something to do with that.  He runs the Grand Rapids Red Project.  In addition to their needle exchange for I.V. drug users, they started giving out Narcan kits, which can reverse dangerous respiratory problems during an overdose.

“October of 2008, we began providing Naloxone to our clients at the syringe exchange program so they can have it on hand in case someone overdoses,” said Alsum.

Alsum says they’ve trained 210 people and had about 80 successful reversals reported.  But he said that most people who need these kits can’t get them, such as people who live with an addict or former addict.  

“Other states, they have a carve-out allowance that allows individuals to get this medication without a prescription as long as they’re appropriately trained,” said Tooker.

Tooker and Alsum want to convince the Michigan Department of Community Health to encourage a change of state law.

“Train anybody to recognize the signs of overdose, in a friend, neighbor, relative, and administer the rescue medication and save their lives,” said Tooker.

Narcan is not addictive.  It can be administered with an injection or an inhaler in some cases.  Alsum said it is fairly inexpensive.