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Justice Department Urges Law Enforcement To Carry Heroin Overdose Antidote

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US Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during an event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 15, 2014 at Howard University in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images) | MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images

WASHINGTON, July 31 (Reuters) - U.S. law enforcement agents who deal with heroin addicts may begin carrying the drug naloxone to reverse overdoses, the Justice Department said on Thursday, responding to a surge in heroin use in the United States.

Attorney General Eric Holder said he urged federal law enforcement agencies to identify those workers and determine whether they should be trained in how to administer the medication.

The move will "pave the way for certain federal agents - such as emergency medical personnel - to begin carrying the potentially life-saving drug," the Justice Department said in a statement.

Naloxone is a drug that stops opioids such as heroin from reaching receptors in the brain, which may reverse an overdose.

Holder said in March his agency was stepping up efforts to stem sharp increases in deadly heroin overdoses, trafficking in the drug and abuse of prescription narcotics at the root of what he called an "urgent public health crisis."

More than 16,000 people die each year from prescription opioid overdose in the United States, according to the Food and Drug Administration. (Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)

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