When a news story makes it to The Today Show, it’s either fully into the mainstream news, like a viral video, or it’s an important topic that affects millions of people, such as the latest flu bug.

Heroin is just such a topic – one that is reaching epidemic proportions and is already affecting a lot of people. While many people still view it as a fringe problem that only impacts poor people on the “other” side of town, it’s time to get realistic about how big this problem really is.

NBC understands how big the problem is, and has been running a news series called, “Hooked: America’s Heroin Epridemic,” to help push the facts about heroin usage into millions of households.

Hooked on Heroin

On April 9, the Today Show featured a segment titled, “Life-saving heroin antidote makes its way to more families,” that discussed Narcan. The week before, the FDA approved the use of Narcan by families and friends of heroin abusers.

According to the CDC, there were over 28,000 fatal heroin overdoses in the U.S. from 1996 to 2010. That number would have been even higher if it wasn’t for Narcan, which has saved more than 10,000 people from fatal overdose.

Narcan is the brand name most people know for Naloxone, which is an opioid antagonist that can restore breathing after a heroin overdose. It has been in use by emergency first responders for some time but is now being distributed or prescribed to family members of heroin addicts, as the Today Show segment points out.

How does an opioid antagonist work?

Narcan (Naloxone) is not a drug that can be used to get high, it is not addictive, and has no other use except to reverse a heroin overdose. That means it is not going to be abused like other drugs on the street. It also means that when it is available for more people, it will help save more lives.

There is still quite a bit of controversy surrounding Narcan. The governor of states like Massachusetts have vehemently denied access to the drug by anyone other than certain medical personnel because they feel it would validate heroin use and discourage heroin addicts from seeking treatment. This might be true if heroin addiction was a choice, but people don’t want to be hooked on heroin.

Narcan Overdose Kit

The Narcan emergency overdose kit uses a naloxone nose spray to revive a person from a heroin overdose. Photo courtesy of Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

As the Today Show story continues, it illustrates how Narcan works (like an epi pen or nasal spray) and talks with a mother who obtained Narcan before it was legal for family members. She used it three months later to revive her 21-year old son from a heroin overdose in his bedroom.

There are countless stories similar to hers, and support groups are popping up everywhere that offer information, and even Narcan, for family members to cope with heroin addiction.

This eye-opening video about Narcan is available on the Today Show website.

For more information about Naloxone (Narcan), visit StopOverdose.org.

Find out more about when California approved Naloxone use.

The heroin epidemic in America is real, and we need to get it out in the open, discuss it, and inform more people about the realities of the drug, and how it’s possible to save lives. Heroin addiction can be successfully maintained with proper education and treatment.