Heroin overdoses may be better treated with a nasal spray

An existing overdose-treatment drug is now being tested in nasal spray form (Photo: Shutterstock)

Heroin overdoses are typically treated using injections of a medication that resuscitates the victim. That's fine if paramedics are doing it, but not everyone feels comfortable giving someone else a needle. That's why scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) are developing a nasal spray that does the job.

The drug in the spray is naloxone, which has been used for years – in injection form – to reactivate the breathing center of overdose victims' brains.

While the dosage can be precisely controlled when injecting it, things get a little trickier when spraying it up the nose. However, by testing the spray on 17 students (who did not use any heroin), the NTNU team was able to establish how much of it was required in order to be absorbed into the bloodstream in the desired therapeutic amounts.

Ultimately, it is hoped that bottles of the spray could be given to people such as addicts, security guards and police officers. They could carry the bottles with them more easily than hypodermic needles, and could easily administer the spray themselves in the event of an overdose. Paramedics could also benefit from using the spray, as they wouldn't be at risk of needle jabs, plus it would be easier to use in dark, dirty places such as back alleys.

NTNU now plans on testing the effectiveness of the spray in a field study, in which paramedics will be equipped with both a needle and a spray bottle. Only one will contain the naloxone, but the paramedics won't know which one does. Therefore, they'll administer both to overdose victims, then time how long it takes them to start breathing again.

Source: NTNU/SINTEF

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