Stopping a fatal attraction

September 28, 2005

In 2004, the number of fatal drug overdoses in Baltimore dropped to its lowest level in five years. Health Department officials and drug abuse experts credit "Staying Alive," a program that trains mostly addicts to recognize a heroin overdose and to administer Narcan, a medication that helps revive a user who might die. The program deserves support as officials now sensibly want to continue and expand it.

Since April 2004, more than 800 people have been trained under the program, mostly at a few fixed sites. Health officials think they could train about 3,000 people a year by offering more training sessions, including taking a mobile van to the same dozen sites around the city that the needle-exchange program goes to each week.

Among the new recruits could be prisoners about to be released. Although some experts worry that training presumably clean inmates sends a mixed signal and might encourage them to resume drug use, health officials say that inmates still need to be re-educated about drug dangers and, once released, they could help other users who might overdose.

The initial nonprofit grant for the "Staying Alive" program is about to expire, leaving the city and other private funders to pick up the estimated $200,000-plus tab for its continuation and expansion. Thus far, the program is credited with saving about 100 would-be overdosers, who might ultimately become candidates for long-term treatment and recovery.

For a city trying to tackle drug addiction on as many fronts as possible, "Staying Alive" is a worthwhile investment.

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