Every year, 69,000 people around the world die from overdose from heroin or other opiate drugs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Another drug called naloxone can, however, prevent death from opiate drug overdose in certain cases, if administered quickly enough. If naloxone were more widely available, the WHO says, an additional 20,000 lives a year could be saved. The WHO on Nov. 4 called for increased distribution and use of naloxone.
Iran, Russia, and China could especially benefit from the increased availability of naloxone, the WHO says. Many people in those countries use opiate drugs.
Opiate drugs, which include oxycodone, heroin, and codeine, can be prescribed for chronic pain. In the United States, opioid use has grown by 10 times in the past decade. In 2010, there were 16,500 deaths from prescription opioid drugs, and 4,000 deaths from heroin overdose.
In cases of opioid overdose, often the person simply misjudges the amount of the drug that they can tolerate. If naloxone were available in the person's home, then a family member could quickly administer the drug if they notice that a person has overdosed on heroin or another opioid drug.
"If opioids are easily available in people's bathroom cabinets, it might make sense for naloxone to be equally available," says Nicholas Clark, an expert working with the WHO.
This year, some police officers in New York began carrying naloxone to combat heroin overdose. Other police forces around the country have begun carrying naloxone with dramatic results. In Quincy, Mass., the police commissioner says their team has prevented about 252 overdoses since 2010.
Naloxone used to only be available as an injection, but it is now available as a nasal spray, which is cost-effective, takes effect in about two to three minutes, and has no side effects.
Scotland released results in October of a program they had designed to let people have naloxone in their homes. They found that in people who had just been released from prison, naloxone use reduced heroin overdose by 9.8 percent in 2006 and 2010 to 4.7 percent in 2013. Other cities around the world have started to follow Scotland's example.