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Bill would ease access to drugs that fight overdoses


    OxyContin tablets are seen at Brooks Drugs in Montpelier, Vt., in this July 19, 2001, file photo.

Jean Mooney said she could’ve saved the life of a woman overdosing on heroin if she’d had access to a “life-saving” drug that can reverse overdoses in minutes

At the time, Mooney said she was also a heroin addict. She said she performed rescue breathing and called 911, but the woman died.

Mooney said many overdose deaths — including that woman’s — could be prevented by drugs like naloxone, known as an opioid antagonist because it can temporarily reverse an overdose.

“It could be our mother, father, grandparent or child who needlessly dies because of unwarranted restrictions on a non-narcotic, non-addictive, life-saving miracle drug,” Mooney said in support of a bill introduced in Hawaii to increase access to the drugs.

Hawaii lawmakers are pushing a bill to make it easier to get medication that counteract the effects of overdoses, and provide immunity for people who administer them. The bill would protect doctors, pharmacists, emergency responders and outreach organizations. It also aims to increase education on abuse of opioids, such as heroin and prescription drugs like OxyContin.

It would also require the drug to be covered by Medicaid, and would give community organizations the ability to distribute the drug for free if approved by a health professional.

“This is clearly something that doesn’t create a dependency but can save somebody’s life if they’ve had a drug overdose,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, who introduced the bill. “It’s important we provide the limited immunity so people aren’t afraid to use it.”

Hawaii is one of six states without a law expanding access to opioid antagonists and providing immunity for those who prescribe and administer them, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. New Mexico became the first state pass a similar law in 2001, while most states passed laws within the last five years.

Government officials say opioid overdoses are an epidemic. President Barack Obama recently announced a request for more than $1 billion in the new budget to fight drug abuse and overdoses.

National data shows drug overdoses kill more Americans every year than car crashes, and state data shows Hawaii is no different. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the islands, causing around 150 deaths each year.

Some medical professionals have historically been hesitant to prescribe naloxone because of liability.

But supporters say the drug has no abuse potential. It’s a temporary drug that lasts between 20 and 90 minutes, so it’s necessary to seek additional medical care after it’s administered.

“In the end, if you save that person’s life, then you can start treatment,” said Carl Bergquist, the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group Executive Director. “It’s really kind of a no brainer.”

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