If the senators from West Virginia and Virginia have their way, it will become law for doctors to hand out scripts for naloxone along with prescriptions for opiate painkillers (e.g., OxyContin and hydrocodone-based medications). Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have introduced a bill called the Co-prescribing Saves Lives Acct that would increase access to naloxone in federal health facilities as well as in the homes of people who are taking opiate painkillers.
This bipartisan move demonstrates that many agree on at least one thing: It’s important to use the tools we have to fight the rising overdose death rate caused by opiate drug abuse and addiction.
Naloxone is an anti-overdose medication that blocks the effects of an opiate overdose in progress. It was formerly only in the possession of emergency medical providers, but across the country, states have been making legislative changes that have put the drug into the hands of law enforcement, and friends and family members of loved ones who struggle with opiate addiction. If administered correctly and in time, the drug can immediately arrest an opiate overdose. A new nasal spray version of the drug was recently approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, making it even easier to administer the lifesaving medication.
The Co-Prescribing Saves Lives Act
The proposed bill would improve the ability of the state to help residents who are struggling with opiate addiction, including:
- Funding for state health departments to create guidelines for the co-prescription of naloxone and opiate medication
- Funding for state health departments to buy naloxone
- Funding to train medical professionals and patients to use naloxone correctly
- Requiring the Department of Defense, DOD hospitals, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to also create guidelines for co-prescription of the two drugs and fund the training of those who would prescribe and use them
Widespread Opiate Addiction and Overdose
Though West Virginia and Virginia are not the only states in the country struck by opiate addiction and loss of life due to overdose, West Virginia has one of the highest rates of deaths due to drug overdose in the country, and drug overdose is the cause of death among residents more frequently than car accidents in Virginia. In 2012, more than 800 people in Virginia died due to drug overdose, and in response, the state legislature has been working overtime to implement legislative measures to positively impact the problem. A few months ago, a number of bills made sure that law enforcement in Virginia were equipped with naloxone, and there are plans to continue to monitor and address the problem in 2016.
In a press release, Senator Kaine said: “A particularly heartbreaking aspect of this crisis is that many of the deaths from opioid and heroin overdoses could have been prevented. My bill would increase access to medication that can save someone’s life during an overdose and establish clear prescribing guidelines that will help get vital information about opioids to doctors and patients.”
Stats and Facts
Whether the drug of choice is heroin or a prescription painkiller like Percocet – or in many cases, both drugs – abuse and addiction have reached epidemic proportions across the United States. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that, as of 2015:
- An estimated 9.4 percent of the American population is living with a substance abuse or addiction problem (about 24.6 million people aged 12 and over).
- More than half a million Americans are living with a heroin addiction, and 1.9 million Americans are living with a prescription painkiller abuse or addiction disorder.
- About 23 percent of the people who use heroin will develop a chronic addiction to the drug.
- In 2013, an average of 100 people in the US lost their lives to drug overdose every single day.
- An average of 46 people die everyday due to an overdose of prescription painkillers – or about 17,000 people a year.
- In 2013, the number of deaths due to drug overdose was greater than the number of deaths caused by car accident.
- An estimated 8,200 people die of a heroin overdose every year in the US.
- About 75 percent of people who struggle with painkiller abuse and dependence will switch to heroin because it is cheaper, easier to access, and provides similar effects.
Families who have a loved one living with an opiate abuse or addiction problem cannot wait for bills to be presented, passed, and implemented. Every day and every use of an opiate drug presents a potential crisis: overdose or other medical emergency, accident under the influence, and more. The breakdown of family relationships is one of the effects of untreated addiction, but there are support and care for families as well as the person living with addiction. If you are unsure where to begin, you can help yourself and your loved one in addiction by:
- Talking to your doctor about getting a prescription for naloxone
- Joining a support group for friends and family members of people living in addiction
- Learning more about the nature of opiate addiction and the treatment options available
- Connecting your loved one with treatment services and offering support throughout the admission and treatment process
With a new year around the corner and elections just a few months away, you can make changes that will have a positive impact on your loved one as well as everyone in your family. Commit to finding new and improved methods of addressing the issue of opiate addiction in your family today.