Increased access to naloxone proposed as overdose deaths increase

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The recent tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is far from the only such story, although his was the only OD death making big news of late. In fact, the sad truth is that the number of fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers and illicit street heroin has skyrocketed over the last few years. Deaths related to prescription painkillers have increased 233 percent from 2000 to 2012 and deaths related to heroin have increased 84 percent from 2010 to 2012. In 2010, prescription painkillers were involved in more than half of the 38,000 US drug overdose deaths.

In order to address this issue, the New York State Legislature is considering a bill that would increase access to naloxone, which can reverse the overdose and save lives. Naloxone works by restoring breathing within a few seconds following injection most opioid overdoses involve either slowed or stopped breathing. (The reversal wears off after a few hours, so those using some long-acting respiratory depressants, such as Demerol, must be watched at least overnight). The bill, if passed, would allow a trained layperson to dispense naloxone under a prescriber s authorization. According to Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, This legislation expands on a 2005 law I authored to establish opioid antagonists as effective treatments and will create further access to a life-saving drug that, when administered properly, is known to stop the effects of accidental overdoses. If we create more access in conjunction with ramping up outreach efforts, we can help save thousands of lives each year. Similar bills have been passed by California, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina and Vermont.

Currently, naloxone is available only through certified Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs, of which there are 52 in New York City. However, in the past year, there has been an increased effort to increase access to naloxone in other ways. The White House encouraged the provision of naloxone to first responders police and Emergency Medical Technicians so they can act quickly in cases of opiate overdose. And following this statement by the White House, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration released the Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit, which highlights the role of naloxone in preventing fatal consequences of overdose, although the toolkit did not contain naloxone itself.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross adds, Clearly, more widespread access to naloxone is essential to save many from preventable OD deaths. We are completely behind the passage of this bill. Further, there should be some recognized immunity or amnesty for bystanders who call emergency responders, including police, for a friend who has OD d, without fear of being arrested for drug possession.