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NSU’s College of Pharmacy Findings:Bystanders should help victims of accidental overdoses

Don’t Ignore The Snore  – The Good Samaritan Act Enacted as a Result of NSU Research

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL — In the first six months of 2011 alone, more than 4,000 Floridians suffered from a drug-related death.  But effective today, this sobering dose of reality may have a new remedy.  Florida is now one of a handful of states to enact legislation (the 911 Good Samaritan Act) that gives legal amnesty to any person who calls 911 to report a drug overdose.  It’s hoped that by granting immunity for possessing or taking drugs themselves, or bystanders will be more apt to seek help and in turn, save lives.

According to a recent summary by Nova Southeastern University’s College of Pharmacy (COP) presented to the Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition , 2 out of every 3 deadly accidental overdoses in Palm Beach County involved a bystander who failed to seek medical attention for the victim.  Data from the Sheriff’s Department’s Overdose Suppression project along with information from the Florida Medical Examiners Drug Interim Report, 2011 were analyzed by NSU’s College of Pharmacy, 2012 Graduate  Amanda Foster, Pharm.D and Assoc. Professor  Catherine Harrington, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Another compelling statistic revealed that nearly 1 in 4 bystanders are mistaking a potential life saving clue for simply passing out.  “The data showed that 24% of witnesses reported hearing loud snoring, similar to what those in the medical profession would likely describe as apnea,” said Dr. Harrington, NSU-COP Palm Beach.  The most common drugs that caused deaths were Benzodiazepines, Alcohol and Opioids.  Benzodiazepines are a class of agents most commonly prescribed for anxiety.  Opioids are synthetic narcotics that are prescribed for severe pain.

NSU-COP researchers say that this loud snoring is not a sign of peaceful rest, but rather an indication that a person is in grave danger. “Both of these classes of drugs are designed to impact the central nervous system which acts as the hub for all bodily functions.  Take too many and they can lead to respiratory depression, or hypoventilation, where the lungs and the heart slow down so much, they simply stop.  Loud snoring is a symptom of respiratory depression that no bystander should ever dismiss as someone simply sleeping it off, because chances are, they’ll never wake up.  That’s why we are encouraging people, don’t ignore the snore,” said Dr. Foster.

NSU-COP Assistant Dean. Nile Khanfar, Ph.D., MBA said taking part in the study was an eye opener for him and his colleagues.  “More people will die from abusing prescription medications than they will in traffic accidents, and Florida reportedly has the most dangerous stretch of highway in the country. The College of Pharmacy has an obligation to become part of the solution.  One way of doing that is by taking a scientific approach toward a social problem in hopes of raising awareness and educating people that there are things they can do to change the outcome and even save a life,” said Dr. Nile Khanfar.

PBC’s Substance Awareness Coalition stands committed to reducing prescription drug abuse and accidental overdose deaths through public education.   The NSU study, is Phase I of the Coalition’s initiative to help raise awareness of the problem and in turn reduce the number of accidental deaths from prescription  drug abuse.  Dr. Sircar, another faculty on the research team said that Phase II will center on launching what is known as the “Generation Rx” program, which is an educational program geared toward middle schoolers on the dangers of prescription drug abuse. As well as joining a national awareness campaign , “Wake Up to Medicine Abuse”  from September 23-29th.

“There’s this perception that if it’s manufactured, that somehow, it is cleaner, and safer.  NSU’s   team uncovered that just a small number of the deaths from accidental overdose were from illicit, recreational drugs.  It is a social imperative that we stop this problem  before it even starts.” said Jeff Kadel, Executive Director of the PBC Substance Awareness Coalition.


  • In the first half of 2011, 2,609 individuals died with one or more prescription drugs in their system
  • Virtually all of the victims were white, and 7 out of 10 of them were male.
  • Half of the victims were receiving medical treatment.
  • 15% of the victims had a bipolar disorder, nearly 4 times higher than the estimated prevalence of bipolar disorder in the US.
  • Only 1 in 4 were taken to the hospital.

For more information, please visit


Julie Spechler, Nova Southeastern University (NSU), Office of Public Affairs

Jeff Kadel, PBC Substance Awareness Coalition

Det. Gary Martin, PBSO’s Homicide Unit