Taking crucial steps to prevent overdose deaths, health officials in Utah and Louisiana have issued orders to make naloxone more widely available for those at risk of opioid overdose.
The state health officials issued a "standing order" for naloxone, joining a majority of states around the nation. A standing order for naloxone increases access to the life-saving opioid overdose antidote, and typically allows participating pharmacists to dispense naloxone—without a patient-specific prescription—to laypeople including caregivers, family and friends of a person at risk for overdose.
"This is an important step in our fight against the opioid epidemic," said Rebekah Gee, MD, MPH, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. "By making this medication and education widely available, people who overdose can get the antidote quickly and administer it safely. This will save lives."
The standing order addresses a 12.4 percent increase in Louisiana overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. “Widespread availability of opioid antagonists to addicts and their caregivers, as well as first responders in the community, would serve the public interest,” the standing order states.
“As the new president of the Louisiana State Medical Society, and the Coroner for East Baton Rouge Parish, I know all too well the reality of the heroin and opioid epidemic facing our community, state, and nation,” said William “Beau” Clark, MD, president of the Louisiana State Medical Society.
“The recent decision by the Louisiana Department of Health, to implement a standing order for naloxone will save lives, and is a step in the right direction to prevent the disastrous effects of overdose associated with heroin and opioids,” Dr. Clark said. “The LSMS is proud to have been an integral part in passing the legislation last year to allow for this order to be implemented. I look forward to working with all stakeholders in Louisiana to ultimately prevent untimely overdose deaths and eliminate this public health crisis.”
In 2015, more than 250 people died from a prescription opioid overdose in Utah, according to a press release. And more than 125 died from a heroin overdose. “Opioid overdose can be reversed and death prevented by timely administration of naloxone,” said Joseph Miner, MD, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. “As authorized by state law, this standing order is intended to increase access to naloxone for those who might be at risk of an overdose or who might be in a position to assist somebody at risk of an overdose.”
Pennsylvania last spring issued a standing order for naloxone as part of the state’s expanded efforts to reverse the opioid overdose epidemic. “We wanted to facilitate as much as possible the public obtaining naloxone if they have a friend or family member or a loved one who is at risk of overdosing from prescription opioids or heroin,” Rachel Levine, MD, physician general of Pennsylvania, told AMA Wire®.
The AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse has urged increased access to naloxone and recommends that physicians who prescribe opioid medications co-prescribe naloxone as well.