Medical news

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

Some recent medical headlines from the newspapers and medical journals may not yet have reached prime time, but are worth knowing:

1. Narcan, known generically as naltrexone, has been recommended to be available over the counter. It is a medication that has been available by prescription for years, as a tablet, injection and nasal spray, to be used to counteract narcotic overdoses. It’s been primarily used by emergency medical services as well as emergency departments, and has been recommended to have available by families and friends of those people who are at risk for narcotic overdose.

If, as expected, it becomes available without prescription, it may be worthwhile for many people to buy a box of the product, to have available for unexpected emergencies.

The product is available as a nasal spray, and each box has two individual single-use nasal sprays. The instructions are included in the box, but the idea is to spray the unit into the nose of someone who is suspected of overdosing on a narcotic.

If the condition is not narcotic-related, no serious problems arise with its use, so it is recommended to use it when the possibility of a narcotic overdose is suspected.

2. In another article published this past December in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the same medication, naltrexone, has been found helpful in the treatment of people who binge-drink alcohol excessively.

Previously, it had been thought that this medication needed to be taken daily in order to reduce the cravings in people diagnosed with an alcohol substance use disorder, which is still an indication. The recent study, however, showed that it can be effective when taken as needed to help curb cravings to drink.

This new study may help many people who are not daily drinkers or may not yet have developed a full-blown alcohol addiction but who are wanting to cut down on their binge drinking.

Given that this medication is available and has been used to treat alcohol abuse disorders, it is reasonable to consider its use for people who want to quit and is worth discussing with one’s primary care physician or psychiatrist. It may be an off-label indication currently, but research appears to support its use.

3. AED, an automated external defibrillator, is a battery-operated machine that can be used when a person’s heart has stopped. If a person is suspected of having a sudden cardiac arrest, meaning their heart has stopped, for whatever reason, CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is immediately recommended and is fairly easy to learn.

The AEDs are now fairly common, and yet they are not easily found during an acute emergency. I strongly recommend that everyone look around their synagogue, school and place of work to determine the location of the establishment’s AED and fire extinguisher. At a glance they may look familiar, and in a dire emergency they might get confused.

The technique of CPR and the proper use of an AED can be lifesaving, and they are easily learned. CPR classes are either free or inexpensive, and can be learned in a few hours.

The use of the defibrillator is fairly automatic, as they have voice-activated commands, and one just needs to do what is said.

A few minutes of preparation may save a life.

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas

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