Once in a great while, a bill so obviously good comes along that not even one member of the Ohio Senate can reasonably oppose it. Such is the case with a lifesaving measure that would vastly expand the use of naloxone to reduce fatal opioid overdoses, including those caused by heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
Last week, senators unanimously approved the bill, which goes back to the House. Representatives should approve it, and Gov. John Kasich should sign it.
The bill aims to reduce Ohio’s record number of fatal overdoses from heroin and prescription painkillers — now the state’s leading cause of accidental death, surpassing car crashes. It would allow licensed prescribers to provide naloxone, known by the trade name Narcan, to an addict’s friends or family members.
People who administered the antidote would be immune from prosecution as long as they called 911 immediately before or after doing so. The bill also would make it easier for police officers and emergency responders to administer naloxone, and far more of them should. State-sponsored pilot projects that expanded the use of naloxone to overdose victims in Cuyahoga, Lorain, and Scioto counties have saved dozens of lives.
Naloxone can be simply administered with a nasal spray to reverse the effects of a drug overdose. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, naloxone blocks heroin or prescription pain drugs from binding to receptors in the brain and stopping a person’s breathing. It has no effect on someone who has not taken opiates.
An opiate overdose can take hours before a victim dies, providing ample time for people to intervene if they have the right tools and training. An overdose reversal kit, including two doses of naloxone, costs $30 to $50, compared with more than $10,000 for the average inpatient charge for a drug overdose, much of which is paid for by tax dollars.
That makes these kits an excellent investment, as well as a lifesaving tool. The state should help financially strapped communities fund the kits for police officers, first responders, and citizens. The kits include information on how to use the drug and phone numbers for treatment.
The only argument against expanding naloxone use is that it could enable opiate abusers to keep using. That’s nonsense, and cruel to boot.
People who die can’t get treatment. A 2006 study found that 26 percent of people using Narcan sought treatment within three weeks of an overdose.
In 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available from the Ohio Department of Health, 1,154 Ohioans died from an opiate drug overdose, either heroin or prescription painkillers. From 1999 to 2011, Ohio’s drug overdose death rate increased more than four times. On average, five Ohioans die from drug overdoses every day.
At least 10 other states have removed barriers for prescribing and administering naloxone. Kentucky allows physicians to prescribe the drug to people at high risk of opiate overdose, and bystanders to administer nasal naloxone without fear of legal penalties.
Expanded use of naloxone won’t eradicate Ohio’s opiate epidemic. But it will save hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives and nudge people into treatment. That’s a no-brainer, even for state lawmakers.