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TRENTON – The “Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act,” legislation sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Richard J. Codey, which would reduce the number of overdose deaths caused by opioids – such as heroin, oxycodone or morphine – in New Jersey was unanimously approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
“More people in the United States die from drug overdoses than from car accidents. New Jersey needs a comprehensive strategy to end this epidemic and ensure that these victims have a chance to live a long, drug-free life,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “We can and should encourage doctors and health care professionals to proactively save the lives of possible opioid overdose victims, by removing any concerns or barriers that limit their likelihood of prescribing life-saving opioid overdose antidotes such as naloxone, allowing the medication to reach its full public health potential.”
The bill, S-2082, would encourage the broader use of opioid overdose antidotes – such as naloxone – by eliminating the possibility of negative legal action against doctors who prescribe and dispense or bystanders who administer the life-saving medication. The bill would provide civil and criminal immunity as well as professional immunity for health care professionals for prescribing, dispensing or administering naloxone or similar opioid antidote drugs.
Opioid overdose causes the victim’s central nervous and respiratory systems to depress, leading to death. Naloxone is a prescription opioid antidote that helps to reverse these effects and can revive virtually all victims of opioid overdose. The Senators note that opioid overdose antidotes have been used by paramedics and in hospitals for decades, and since the mid-1990s, often through needle-exchange programs, have been handed out to potential victims of opioid overdose in kits, similar to EpiPens. Since 1996, naloxone has reversed more than 10,000 drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Opioid overdose is rarely instantaneous, but rather, the victims slowly stop breathing over hours,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex/Morris. “If a bystander or medical professional can intervene, these lives can and will be saved. Helping drug addicts to get clean is our optimal goal, but we are unable to provide drug rehabilitation and treatment if they are dead.”
The bill would also require health care professionals when prescribing or dispensing these opioid antidotes to a patient to ensure that they are aware of how to prevent and recognize an opioid overdose, the importance of calling 9-1-1 when someone is in opioid overdose, how to perform rescue breathing and resuscitation on an overdose victim, the correct dosage and how to administer the antidote, and how to care for the victims after they administer the antidote.
The bill would permit the Commissioner of Human Services to award grants to county and municipal health departments, corrections institutions, hospitals, universities, and organizations operating community-based programs or substance abuse programs for the creation and support of local opioid overdose prevention, recognition and response projects.
Drawing on a recent Boston University study, Senators Vitale and Codey added that community opioid antidote distribution programs have had successful results. The study compared 19 cities and towns throughout Massachusetts with at least five overdose deaths per year. Those communities with naloxone-distribution programs that had at least 150 people enrolled saw a 50 percent reduction in overdose deaths.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
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