FDA approves heroin overdose antidote

April 4, 2014

WBEZ/Bill Healy
Hundreds of people turned out for an Overdose Awareness rally in August.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved an easy-to-use device that delivers a life-saving antidote for suspected heroin overdoses.

Naloxone is usually administered by syringe in ambulances or emergency rooms. Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy and Roosevelt University, has long advocated for the antidote to be more readily available. 

“When your house is burning down, you don’t think about why your house is burning down, you don’t think about why is the house burning down, you get the people out of the house,” Kane-Willis said.


Once turned on, the device, called Evzio, provides verbal instructions. It’s similar to how non-medical personnel use defibrillators to help people who collapse from cardiac arrest. Evzio is about the size of a credit card.

The FDA’s recent Naloxone approval means doctors could prescribe it for family members or caregivers to keep on hand, in a pocket or a medicine cabinet.

The FDA cautioned that the antidote is not a substitute for immediate medical care.

The drug manufacturer said it’s too soon to estimate the antidote’s cost.

Opioid-related drugs--painkillers such as oxycodone and Vicodin or heroin--are proving more popular and lethal. The FDA says 16,000 people die every year due to opioid-related overdoses, and that drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States, surpassing motor vehicle crashes.

WBEZ and the Chicago Reader explored the pathways through which heroin enters and impacts our community in its joint series, "Heroin, LLC."

Katie O’Brien is a WBEZ reporter and producer. Follow her @katieobez.