Kennedy Leads Committee Passage of Bill to Prevent Opioid Overdoses
Bill ensures easy access to Narcan, the overdose reversal medication
Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-Branford) led the bipartisan, unanimous Public Health Committee passage of SB 552, a bill that will make Connecticut the 35th state to create a “standing order” for Narcan, a safe, life-saving opiate overdose reversal medication. A standing order is a type of prescription that is non-patient specific, and would allow pharmacists to more easily dispense Narcan to any individual, including a friend or family member, who is concerned about reversing a potential opiate overdose.
According to a recent report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Connecticut’s rate of opioid-related emergencies ranks fifth in the nation. In 2016, the state medical examiner’s office reported that 917 Connecticut residents died from overdoses, a 25 percent increase over 2015.
“The growing opioid epidemic is killing an increasing number of Connecticut residents every day,” said Senator Kennedy, Vice Chair of the Public Health Committee and a healthcare attorney. “Research from other states shows that the fewer barriers there are to accessing opioid antagonists like Narcan, the fewer deaths occur due to opioid overdose. We need to make Narcan more available and easier to access, and the ‘standing order’ model does exactly that.”
Connecticut has passed several laws in recent years to combat the opioid epidemic, including limiting initial opioid prescriptions to seven-day supplies and requiring that first responders carry Narcan. In 2015, Connecticut authorized a pharmacist-prescribing program for Narcan, although not all pharmacists have chosen to undertake this program’s certification course. Kennedy’s bill would make a small, but important addition to the current law by authorizing pharmacists to dispense Narcan using a physician’s non-patient specific prescription or “standing order,” and thereby alleviate a barrier for pharmacists who have not taken the prescription certification course. Also, many pharmacists have stated that they would welcome the “standing order” model as a back-up method to use if they felt hesitant about their own prescribing authority.
“Although Connecticut has a pharmacist-prescribing order, this system still presents barriers for people who need access to Narcan,” said Shawn Lang, Director of Public Policy, AIDS CT, and Chair of the Statewide Overdose Prevention Workgroup. “Because of shame and stigma, many addicts and their friends and families are hesitant to ask a pharmacist for a Narcan prescription. Our public health policy should promote simpler, judgement-free access to this life-saving medication.”
In his testimony, Yale physician Benjamin Howell, MD, MPH stated, “there are still too many unnecessary barriers to naloxone (Narcan) access. Although pharmacist prescribing was a step in the right direction, we can still do more. Changing the law to allow for a naloxone standing order is the logical next step to improve naloxone access and save lives.”
Now that SB 552 has passed the Public Health Committee, it heads to the Senate floor.