Officials discuss heroin strategy as more responders carry overdose antidote

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Officials outlined a more aggressive approach to combating the growing epidemic of heroin use, as high-ranking law enforcement officers, medical experts and state prosecutors met for a closed-door heroin summit in Minneapolis Thursday, the Star Tribune reports.

According to the newspaper, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger was at the meeting and suggested police departments consider bringing cases involving a drug overdose death to his federal office rather than a local prosecutor, to get a longer sentence if there is a conviction.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau, also present, said the focus should also be on the demand side – helping those who struggle with use – since the demographic for heroin users has changed, the Star Tribune reports.

The paper says the meeting was one of the first statewide heroin summits in the country.

Overdose antidote

There's also the question of how first responders can best deal with a drug overdose.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a bill allowing emergency personnel to carry and administer a heroin (and other opiates) overdose antidote called Naloxone, often referred to as Narcan. The new law also provides immunity from prosecution for people who call 911 to report an overdose.

Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies in August became the first in the state to begin carrying Narcan kits.

Now the Coon Rapids Fire Department is set to join them.

KSTP reports a Narcan kit will now be on every one of the city's fire and rescue vehicles because they respond to all medical calls. The department is one of the first in the state to take that step, the station says.

MPR says the 31 full-time firefighters with the department were trained to administer Narcan via nasal spray. The cost for each dose is about $20, the station reports. Narcan has already been used 21 times in Coon Rapids through July 1 of this year, according to KSTP.

Heroin deaths are on the rise in Minnesota and across the nation. The Associated Press reported in May a Secretary of State officials said the number of heroin addicts and abusers has increased by 75 percent over the past four years. Heroin use has escalated in 17 of 20 cities across the U.S. , according to a group called Drug Abuse Dialogues.

MinnPost reported deaths have risen sharply in Hennepin County since 2008, when six people died from overdoses. The number for last year: 54, a record number for the county. 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.

Officials have hosted roundtables and set up forums in the past year to address the heroin problem, and in April 65 suspected heroin dealers were arrested in Minnesota as part of a sweep.

How does Narcan work?

Naloxone works by unblocking receptors in the brain that get clogged up by an opioid such as heroin.

Here's CNN with a quick visual explainer:

And here's a first responder in Pennsylvania explaining how they administer Narcan, and what the goal is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35lBf5s-iro

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