It is easy to diagnose a heroin overdose.

The patient is barely breathing, unresponsive and has pinpoint pupils.

When we see an OD in the ER, we do two things: breathe for them and give them Narcan.

Narcan competes with, and blocks, heroin from attaching to the brain receptors.

If it isn’t too late, the patient wakes up.

Narcan has saved thousands of lives. It is used by paramedics, EMTs and the police.

It can be prescribed and is available over the counter in many states, although not yet in Connecticut.

The recent surge in drug overdoses here might change that.

It is vital to know that the effects of heroin will outlast the effects of Narcan.

Any time Narcan is given, the patient needs to go to the hospital. If not, when the Narcan wears off, the addict could become unconscious and stop breathing.

Heroin is classified as an opiate. It is derived from the opium poppy, Papaver Somniferum, which is Latin for “sleep bringing poppy.”

The poppies are grown throughout the world, but come to the U.S. predominantly from Mexico, Columbia and Southeast Asia.

When injected, snorted, or smoked, heroin binds to specific receptors in the brain and causes an intense euphoria. It is that feeling that brings most people to heroin again.

Soon, they realize that it takes more and more heroin to feel less and less euphoric, and ultimately the goal is to ward off the symptoms of withdrawal.

You often hear drug addicts describe themselves as “sick” and needing to “get well.”

The majority of addicts I see in the ER are miserable and want to get off drugs. They are not enjoying their lives.

The addict is not the only victim here. Families are left with both the burden of their loved one’s addiction and the blame and shame associated with it.

They come to the ER and take their loved one home, preparing for the next and possibly last call from the hospital.

A valuable resource for friends and families is Community, Addiction and Recovery Education and Support (CARES). To learn more, visit

It provides support meetings as well as ways to understand and deal with addiction. Please check it out.

Carl D’Andrea is chief of emergency medicine at New Milford Hospital. He can be reached at