Drug Czar praises Vt. for taking lead on opiate issues - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Drug Czar praises Vt. for taking lead on opiate issues

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There's no space left on their utility belts, but Vt. State Police Commander Col. Tom L'Esperance says in about six weeks every trooper will find a way to carry one of the latest tools in the fight against crime -- a drug called Naloxone also known by its brand name Narcan.

"This was by far the easiest decision I've ever had to make as the director of the state police," L'Esperance said.

The drug is given to opiate addicts in the midst of an overdose. Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen says the delivery mechanism takes about 15 seconds to assemble. Once administered nasally, it can revive an unresponsive and blue patient in less than a minute. "So literally, this is a life-saving drug, it does save lives, it has saved lives and will save more," Dr. Chen said.

Health care organizations began distributing doses of the drug to addicts' family members in January. Of the 500 available, about 140 have been given out. Gov. Peter Shumlin credits those doses with saving seven lives already.

"In a state the size of Vermont you can serve as a model and a blueprint, and I think you already have," said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Kerlikowske is President Obama's Drug Czar. On Monday he congratulated Vermont officials for acknowledging and addressing opiates as a major health and safety issue. He says prescription drugs and heroin don't discriminate and ruin the lives of people from all backgrounds. "In the rural and the more suburban areas I think you probably feel it more painfully because everybody knows somebody whose family has been impacted," Kerlikowske said.

Kerlikowske prefers to treat rather than incarcerate drug users. He's also made it clear in his time as Drug Czar he's skeptical of a growing national acceptance of marijuana.

Reporter Kyle Midura: Many of us expect Vermont to have a legalization debate in the years to come surrounding marijuana. How if at all would that affect our efforts to combat opiate use?

Gil Kerikowske: I think I'm going to dodge that question.

State police aren't the only emergency responders set to carry Naloxone. Dr. Chen says every EMT should be carrying a dose by April, which means every ambulance will carry the precious cargo.

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