JUNEAU – Monday SB 23, an act relating to immunity for providing or administering opioid overdose drugs which passed the Senate last session with a vote of 19 to 1, has now passed the House by a vote of 36 to 0.
This legislation, sponsored by Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage), and co-sponsored by eight other Democrats and Republicans, is the result of a real and growing heroin and opioid pain reliever abuse epidemic affecting every region of the state. SB 23 will now give providers the ability to dispense the life-saving overdose drug naloxone over the counter, and without fear of civil liability. Often, friends and family are the “first responders” to opioid overdose, and will now be able to obtain and administer naloxone in emergency, life-threatening situations.
Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is not a controlled substance, has no abuse potential, and has no effect if administered to someone without opioids in their system. It can be injected intravenously, or via a nasal spray. Naloxone is an “opioid antagonist,” rapidly blocking the effects of opioid drugs including oxycontin, morphine, and heroin. The blocking effect can last up to 45 minutes, allowing time for medical help to arrive.
“I am extremely pleased that SB 23 will become law,” said Senator Ellis. “Every year that passes we lose more lives to opioid overdose in Alaska. Last year, 88 lives were lost all across the state. Naloxone gives second chances to Alaskans in dire, life-threatening situations who otherwise might not get them. And it allows those who love them to intervene, and potentially save their lives.”
Opioid overdoses constitute a growing public health threat nationally, and have reached epidemic proportions in Alaska. According to the Alaska State Troopers’ 2013 Annual Drug Report there has been a huge uptick of heroin and other opiate abuse. In 2008, the rate of prescription overdose deaths in Alaska was more than twice that of the United States overall (14.2 versus 6.5 per 100,000 persons). 79% of the overdoses in Alaska were due to opioids. The Anchorage Police Department reported a 94% increase in heroin seizures in 2013, and heroin-related overdoses are now claiming more young lives than traffic fatalities.
SB23 is not intended as a replacement for substance abuse treatment. Drug enforcement and rehabilitation are also critical components of the fight against addiction. SB23 simply gives doctors and bystanders to overdoses the peace of mind that they will not be held civilly liable for doing the right thing, and perhaps more importantly, it gives families and loved ones a life-saving tool against the heartbreak caused by unnecessary deaths due to heroin overdose.
“Today’s action has added significance since Senate Bill 23 was the last bill to be worked on by the late Rep. Max Gruenberg. Three amendments were added at his suggestion, strengthening and improving the bill. He would be pleased today,” said Sen. Ellis. “The legislature has acknowledged that we simply can’t ignore Alaska’s heroin problem any longer. Most heroin overdose deaths are preventable, and that’s what SB 23 is about – saving lives.”