New Law will Ease Access to Life-Saving Opiate Overdose Treatment

Naloxone has saved thousands of lives from opiate drug overdoses. Photo by M via Flickr
Naloxone has saved thousands of lives from opiate drug overdoses. Photo by M via Flickr

By Joanna Richards

A record number of Ohioans – over 2,100 – died from accidental drug overdoses in 2013, according to state Health Department data. Three-quarters of those were from opioids like heroin and oxycodone.

A new measure the governor is expected to sign into law in the coming weeks will widen access to the life-saving opiate overdose drug, naloxone, also known by its commercial name, Narcan.  

Michelle, an Amherst, Ohio resident who didn’t want her last name used, has saved two lives with naloxone.

One is her 20-year-old nephew, who she found blue and unresponsive on a bedroom floor earlier this year.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do, because your loved one is, like, in your hands. You’re almost playing God for a minute,” she said.

Unlike most prescription drugs, naloxone is best put into the hands not of the people who’ll need it, but those surrounding them.

A 2014 law allowed doctors to prescribe naloxone to anyone who might be in a position to save someone from an overdose. 

“But we’re still fairly limited in our ability to reach the community with this vital antidote,” said Dr. Joan Papp, the Cleveland-based medical director of Project DAWN, a naloxone distribution program with locations around the state.

“It’s very expensive to pay a doctor to stand and hand out a medication that’s incredibly safe, incredibly easy to educate on, and what we wanted to do was we wanted to remove that barrier,” she said.

Papp says the physician requirement has limited Cleveland’s Project DAWN program to operating just one day a week.

Under the new law – which Papp helped push for – doctors will be able to train other people, like pharmacists, nurses and program staff, in naloxone use. Doctors could then authorize them to distribute it at their discretion.

Papp says that will let programs like Project DAWN expand operations substantially.

The change could also help people who live in more rural areas, like Michelle in Amherst, who don’t have easy access to programs like Project DAWN. She said being able to walk into a local pharmacy and ask for naloxone would be a big relief.

“I had to drive almost 80 miles roundtrip just to get two refills…I could have had it in five minutes with no stress,” she said.

It will likely take a few months to ramp up training for wider distribution.

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