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Autoinjectors: From Nerve Agent Antidotes To Epipen Use

Updated on February 17, 2012

Toxic Exposure

photo by pdbratcher on Flickr
photo by pdbratcher on Flickr

Autoinjectors Save Lives

The guerrilla soldier's eyes twitched and his pupils began to contract into a pinpoint state of miosis as he struggled to return to the military truck he had arrived in. Today marked the second week of urban warfare in the capital city of Damascus in the southeast corner of Syria. He knew that the city he now fought for was the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and he was not about to let an insurrection push his people out now. Yes, for the past two weeks things had quickly escalated as Ashur led his group in battle against outside government sponsored revolts. He was not prepared to relinquish control to the opposition despite their propaganda campaign against his president Bashar al-Assad. But those causes seemed remote and distant as his chest tightened and various muscles began twitching, surrendering voluntary control over to the VX nerve agent that the saboteurs had released. There were only two known stockpiles of the deadly organophosphate poison and one of them must have been tapped. He had no time to wonder whether it was the Russians or the Americans. He reached down into his pouch and produced an antidote autoinjector which he nearly dropped as he vomited on the ground beside him. His team had mere hours to use their autoinjectors and decontaminate themselves of the chemical area denial weapon with a lethal dose LD50 rating of 10 milligrams. He gave himself the double shot from both autoinjectors that were in his pouch, which was similar to the Mark I kit used by the US Armed Forces. He first pushed the Atropine autoinjector into his thigh and the spring loaded syringe released the first part of the antidote into his nervous system. Next came the Pralidoxime Chloride (2-PAM) which he injected in the same manner. He was not sure if he had got the order right as he had been taught in training, but with snipers and aircraft firing all around he did not have much time to consider the succession too in depth. The effects of the organophosphate poisoning began to recede and his brigade took a helicopter back to the base in the city of Aleppo. He would return to the battle once he recovered...

So autoinjectors have been an important part of medical and military history for quite some time. Although the story in the above paragraph is fictional, the antidote auto injectors and the deadly mass weapon of destruction nerve agent are quite real. Various drugs can be packaged into an autoinjector and one will find that military personnel often carry diazapem or Valium autoinjector as part of their personal kit as well. An interesting variant of the autoinjector is the jet autoinjector which uses compressed gas and a jetstream of liquid to propel a substance through the surface of the skin without the use of a conventional needle. Star Trek used similar autoinjectors in a technique they termed "hypospray." A somewhat scary related phenomena that people should be aware of is that of accidental jet injection. There have been many incidents where a fine stream of liquid can penetrate the protective skin barrier and cause health hazards. Mechanics have to be careful when working around fuel injectors and especially diesel fuel injectors. High pressure spray paint guns, grease guns, or other hydraulic oil tools can also act as an accidental hypodermic jet injector should one get in the path. Even an accidental pinhole leak in a supply line can cause this to happen and lead to serious injury like fatal blood poisoning or limb amputation. Be sure to take the appropriate precautions when working with such equipment.

Autoinjectors have also found widespread use in somewhat more common health cases, but none the less deadly if not treated quickly and appropriately. The Epipen autoinjector is a tool to be used for extreme allergic emergency situations. Many people can have deadly allergic reactions to anything from foods to biting and stinging insects like bees. Those who suffer from anaphylaxis when exposed to the allergen can use the Epipen autoinjector as a first response. The Epipen will administer Epinephrine which will help ease the onset of symptoms like hives, flushing and airway constriction. Emergency contact must still be made immediately but the Epipen may provide enough time to mean the difference between life and death. Autoinjectors are seeing new use by paramedics who arrive on scene and need to treat seizure patients. The autoinjector is easier to use against a flailing and convulsing seizure sufferer and studies are showing effective results as treatment on the way to the hospital. Owen Mumford and other companies produce autoinjector pens for use with insulin injections for diabetes patients. In many people, the autoinjector provides a smoother injection and may eliminate some fear of the needle itself. The medical industry is sure to see many new and improved uses for autoinjectors as time progresses.


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