The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a “hand-held auto-injector” device for use with known or suspected opioid overdoses. Abuse of opioids, a group of drugs that includes many prescription painkillers, is becoming a serious problem in the U.S., and the FDA claims that opioid overdose has surpassed automobile accidents as the nation’s leading cause of injury deaths. The device, marketed under the brand name Evzio, delivers an injection of naloxone hydrochloride to counter or reverse the effects of opioid overdose. The FDA has stated that it hopes the availability of the device with a prescription will help prevent overdose deaths in emergency situations.
Opioid analgesics are a family of opiate-based drugs commonly used in prescription painkillers. They are derived from the same source as heroin and several other illegal narcotics. Common opioids include codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. Opioids can be very addictive, so they are tightly controlled by the government. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16,651 people died of drug overdoses involving opioids in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available. This number accounts for about seventy-five percent of all drug overdose deaths that year. Many overdoses involve legally-obtained prescription painkillers. The total number presumably includes intentional and accidental overdoses, as well as dosage errors by a physician or pharmacist.
Evzio, as approved by the FDA, is a handheld device that injects naloxone hydrochloride, an “opioid antagonist” that is a common treatment for opioid overdose. Emergency responders often carry naloxone-containing products for use with suspected overdose victims. Since Evzio is only available with a prescription, it must be obtained in advance of any emergency situation. It is recommended for family members and caregivers of people using opioid painkillers in case of overdose. The device provides verbal instructions for use once it is turned on. A single dose of naloxone, according to the FDA, does not last as long as a typical opioid, so it cautions that the device is not a substitute for medical attention. What the device can do is delay further injury or death due to an overdose until medical attention is available.