- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An alarming rise in overdose cases involving heroin and other opiates - including seven deaths in January - prompted New Orleans officials on Friday to order an emergency treatment drug to be made more easily available to friends and relatives of addicts.

The city’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Kanter, and health director, Charlotte Parent, said the order would make the drug naloxone, often referred to by the brand name Narcan, available over the counter.

“We’ve gone from about two to two-and-a-half patients per day on average last year to about four to five the past couple of weeks,” Jeffrey Elder, director of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services, said at a news conference. “And some days, that’s 10 overdose patients.”

And that doesn’t count data still being collected from individual hospitals, city spokesman Hayne Rainey said in an emailed statement.

Dr. Peter DeBlieux, chief medical officer at University Medical Center, said that facility had seven deaths in January alone.

Officials at the news conference said naloxone, which can be administered as a nasal spray, is an effective emergency treatment that can save lives. Its effectiveness is increased if it is administered quickly. Once it has been administered, the user still needs medical treatment and monitoring, the officials noted.

Elder stressed that anyone who sees indications that someone has suffered an overdose should call for emergency help immediately - without fear of facing consequences related to the use of the illegal drug.

“Please, do not hesitate to call 911,” Elder said. “There is a good Samaritan law that will cover that.”

He listed symptoms including slow respiration, small or “pinpoint” pupils and slowed mental reactions.

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