WASHINGTON - Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday urged first responders to use an overdose-reversal drug to help save lives amid a nationwide resurgence in heroin abuse, a public health scourge claiming the lives of celebrities and young people alike.
When administered in a timely manner, the reversal drug commonly referred to as narcan can restore breathing to someone experiencing a heroin overdose.
Holder told a national conference of police department officials that he associates heroin with the drug problem of the 1950s and early 1960s and "then it kind of went away."
"But no question, it is an issue we have to deal with; it is something that is truly a national problem," the attorney general said.
The Justice Department says 17 states and the District of Columbia are taking steps to increase access to the reversal drug and that it has resulted in more than 10,000 overdose reversals since 2001.
The drug also works on overdoses of legal prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.
Indicative of a resurgence in heroin abuse, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a toxic mix of drugs including heroin and cocaine and "Glee" actor Cory Monteith died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved an easy-to-use device that automatically injects the right dose of the overdose antidote before an ambulance arrives. Doctors could prescribe it for family members or caregivers to keep on hand, in a pocket or a medicine cabinet.