Officers in the New York Police Department (NYPD) will soon begin carrying antidotes capable of reversing the effects of heroin and opioid overdoses, as part of its ongoing effort to combat what US Attorney General Eric Holder has described as an "urgent and growing public health crisis." As the Associated Press reports, New York state's Attorney General office is outfitting the city's police force with 19,500 kits that contain two syringes and two inhalers of naloxone: a drug capable of countering the dangerously slow breathing that often occurs during opiate overdoses.

The drug, marketed under the brand name Narcan, has a shelf life of two years, with each kit costing about $60. The NYPD will receive $1.17 million from the state to fund the program, though it's not clear when officers will begin carrying the antidotes.

"This program will literally save lives."

"By providing NYPD police officers with naloxone, we are making this stunningly effective overdose antidote available in every corner of the five boroughs," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement Tuesday. "This program will literally save lives."

Previous programs have shown promising results. Police in Quincy, Massachusetts have used Narcan on 221 occasions since the fall of 2010, successfully reversing 211 overdoses — a success rate of over 95 percent. According to Schneiderman, the drug was used to save 563 lives in New York's Suffolk County last year.

The abuse of heroin and pharmaceutical opioids has grown dramatically in the US over recent years, prompting law enforcement and public health officials to take action. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of the approximately 38,000 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2010 were related to pharmaceuticals. Statistics from the Justice Department show that deaths from heroin overdoses increased by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010. The issue has drawn broader attention following the February death of celebrated actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in his New York apartment after overdosing on heroin and other illicit drugs.