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Pet Rat In Vancouver Overdoses On Heroin, Saved By Narcan

Volunteers at an overdose prevention site in Vancouver, Canada, say they saved the life of a rat named Snuggles after the little rodent overdosed on heroin.

Sarah Blyth, who co-founded the organization behind the prevention site, wrote about the rescue on Twitter. While Snuggles was initially described as a mouse, Blyth tells NPR that the pet is actually a rat.

She posted photos of Snuggles before and after volunteers administered nalaxone, also known as Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Blyth also said Snuggles now "has a new home."

The CBC, Canada's public broadcaster, had some questions. They spoke with the woman who saved Snuggles' life, Melissa Patton.

She said the pet was brought in on Sunday night by a woman who said it had eaten heroin off a table, the CBC reports:

" 'It had pretty much passed out and wasn't really breathing. We weren't sure what to do, so I gave it some Narcan orally. Because it was so tiny, I didn't want to puncture anything by giving it an injection.'

" 'I just put drops on its nose. I know with animals, if you put it on their nose, they brush it off with their paws and lick their paws to clean themselves, so we did that a few times.' ...

"Patton, who is a year away from earning a degree in pharmaceutical sciences, also gave the [rat] oxygen and continued to monitor it through the night."

Patton fed Snuggles with a syringe and kept the animal warm against her neck, the broadcaster reports.

Then the woman who brought Snuggles in — who is now seeking treatment for addiction — asked Patton to take care of Snuggles.

"How could I not?" Patton told the CBC.

Blythe, who originally tweeted about the story, told the Vancouver Sun that Snuggles is "very, very cuddly."

She said the staff at the overdose prevention site are "willing to help anybody."

Pets that consume drugs can overdose, just like humans; police officers and veterinarians in the U.S. have saved the lives of multiple pet dogs and cats that accidentally consumed heroin.

Narcan is being made available for use in a growing number of places that are struggling with the opioid epidemic. It's not a cure-all for the crisis, but it saves lives.

In 2014, NPR's Shots blog described how the drug works, and challenges to its implementation:

"Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose of heroin, OxyContin, Vicodin and other opioids. The drug blocks the physical effects of opioids — ending the high, and stopping the depression of the respiratory system that can be their deadly side effect. ...

"It's a prescription drug, but one you don't take yourself. And you don't know ahead of time which person — friend, family or stranger — you might need to give it to. To allow people other than doctors and paramedics access to the Narcan kits, states need to pass specific laws.

"Some states voted down bills that would broaden access to naloxone this year. But others passed new laws. Police in at least 20 states are now equipped with overdose reversal kits. Thousands more cops across New York started carrying Narcan in 2014, and a state law that was passed this summer made it easier to distribute Narcan to laypeople who believe someone close to them is at risk of overdose."

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.