A Staten Island hospital has started to distribute free Narcan kits in an effort to combat drug overdose rates, which are highest in that borough in all of New York City.
Staten Island University Hospital has seen more than its fair share of opioid overdoses, and officials hope the Narcan overdose-reversal kits will help stop them.
"Staten Island in particular has been hit pretty hard," said Dr. Michael Ketteringham. "Our rates are about three times the other boroughs."
The announcement comes as the city's Health Department says figures from 2013 show the largest number of heroin fatalities in a decade.
Heroin overdose deaths in the city last topped 400 in 2003, The New York Times reports. Last year, there were 420. The toll has more than doubled over the last three years.
Many of the addicts are older. But experts say younger users are increasingly in the mix.
The city's health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, says the drug naloxone -- or Narcan -- has been used to save at least 500 people who otherwise would have died from overdoses since 2010.
Once a Narcan kit is assembled, it's ready to use and should be applied to each nostril until the dosage is gone. Within seconds, someone suffering from an opioid overdose because of prescription pills or heroin begins breathing again.
"It's like an antidote, it knocks off the receptors, and immediately your drive to breathe comes back," said Ketteringham.
"It's very easy to use. I'd say it's easier to do than CPR," he said.
Doctors stress Narcan must be followed up by immediate medical attention. Narcan cannot be abused and it has no adverse side affects if administered to someone who was believed to be suffering an opioid overdose but wasn’t.
"It may not be you, it may not be your son, but if you know what to do in that situation you could be a life saver," said Ketteringham.
The hospital will be holding a Narcan training event on Sept. 9.
Outreach and education programs have been working on Staten Island, Bassett said. Health officials now will focus some of those strategies on the Bronx.
Affluent areas of the northern Bronx and eastern Queens are among the hot spots. Experts also cite heavy opioid pill abuse and heroin use in the surrounding suburbs of Westchester County and Long Island.