This Monday, the New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will consider the Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act, which expands access to a life-saving medication that is currently only available with a prescription.

(Flickr Photo: Charles Williams)
(Flickr Photo: Charles Williams)

Naloxone is a prescription medication that blocks and reverses the effects of opioid drugs like heroin and OxyContin.

It’s already standard medical practice for emergency personnel to administer when summoned to the scene of an overdose.

A recent survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 1996-2010, 50 naloxone programs nation-wide had provided training and distributed the medication to more than 53,000 people and received reports of more than 10,000 overdose reversals. No such programs exist in New Jersey. This legislation is designed to encourage their establishment.

Naloxone Available by Prescription Only

“We must have a comprehensive strategy to reduce the huge number of tragic and preventable overdose deaths in New Jersey, says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance. “ Expanded access to naloxone is a key component in that strategy. This bill will save lives and should be acted on by the legislature with all possible speed. Lives hang in the balance.”

Because naloxone is available only by prescription, it is not widely accessible to those most often in a position to help an overdose victim. The bill seeks to expand access by providing protection from civil and criminal liability to medical professionals who prescribe the drug and laypeople who administer it.

"Drug overdose continues to be the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey.  Each year it surpasses the number of deaths caused by automobile accidents and guns,” says State Senator Joe Vitale who sponsors the bill. “Expanding access to naloxone will allow this medication to reach its full public health potential and will be an important part of New Jersey's comprehensive efforts to address drug abuse."

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington State and the District of Columbia, have already passed laws that explicitly provide protection from civil and/or criminal liability for people who prescribe or administer naloxone to those at risk for drug overdose.