BYRNES MILL, Mo. — First responders in Missouri soon will be allowed to obtain and carry an antidote for heroin overdoses, following action by Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday.

The Democrat signed House Bill 2040 during a visit to a fire house in the eastern Missouri town of Byrnes Mill. The legislation takes effect Aug. 28.

A single dose of naloxone, when administered in time, can reverse an overdose of heroin or legally prescribed opioid pain medication. Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey signed a similar measure there last month.

"This legislation can save precious, life-saving minutes by putting an effective heroin overdose antidote directly into the hands of trained law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians," Nixon said.

Until now, only paramedics with an order from their medical director were allowed to stock and administer the antidote in heroin overdose cases.

Naloxone can be administered through nasal spray, auto-injector or syringe. The bill also authorizes licensed drug distributors or pharmacies to sell the drug to qualified first responder agencies.

Heroin-related deaths and overdoses have risen, with officials blaming an increased availability of highly pure forms.

High Ridge Fire Chief Mike Arnhart, who was at the bill-signing ceremony, said availability of the antidote could be the difference between life and death.

"Having the antidote onboard our apparatus would allow us to provide immediate life-saving action, particularly in rural areas where it takes longer for an ambulance to arrive on scene," Arnhart said in a statement.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Steve Lynch, R-Waynesville, said in a statement that naloxone is "a safe, effective way to counter the effects of these deadly drugs."

Nixon also signed several other bills related to public safety. Among them: Senate Bill 767 and House Bill 1426, which allow counties to create lists of people with health problems, for use in responding to emergencies or disasters.