A new life saving pocket-sized injection pen will soon be available to help people after a heroin or other opioid overdose.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the device, called Evzio, to administer naloxone hydrochloride. It is expected to be available by prescription this summer.
FDA officials called the new injector an important innovation.
Data shows more than 16,000 lives are lost each year due to opioid-related overdoses.
Drug overdose deaths, driven largely by prescription drug overdose deaths, are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States – surpassing motor vehicle crashes.
Once the device is turned on, it provides verbal instructions on how to deliver the medication, similar to how an automatic heart defibrillator works.
The Evzio automatically injects the proper dose of an overdose antidote before an ambulance arrives.
"There was a great emphasis on making it very user-friendly, both the labeling information and the device itself," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg at a news conference.
She says while the product is designed to be simple and easy-to-use for lay people, it is still critical to seek medical attention for overdose victims.
"The last instruction the device gives is to call 911, because this product is not a substitute for emergency care," she says.
Opioids include prescription narcotic painkillers such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocet -- all of which have shown increasing rates of abuse in recent years.
They also include the illicit drug heroin, which has increased in popularity and recently led to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, HealthDay reports.
The Obama administration is urging all local police and fire departments to equip their officers and vehicles with Evzio.
In February, the Obama administration called on states to ease access to naloxone, and last month Ohio passed a “Good Samaritan” law allowing friends and family members of addicts to administer naloxone without fear of arrest, the Boston Globe reports.
Numbers show heroin-related deaths are also on the rise in the Twin Cities.
MinnPost reports such deaths have risen sharply in Hennepin County since 2008, when six people died from overdoses. The number for last year: 54.
In 2011, there were an estimated 3,493 emergency room visits related to heroin in the Twin Cities metro area, more than triple the number in 2005 and almost double the number in 2009.
State Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, whose daughter died of a heroin overdose in 2007, has proposed a bill allowing officers and deputies to carry naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. Her legislation also seeks to encourage drug users to call for help by protecting them from prosecution for items found at the scene of an overdose emergency.
The rise in heroin use reflects a national trend. Heroin use has escalated in 17 of 20 cities across the U.S. , according to a group called Drug Abuse Dialogues.
And, MinnPost reports, Minneapolis has among the cheapest and purest heroin in the country, most of which comes from Mexico via I-35 or Chicago, according to local and national law enforcement officials.