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New law expands access to opioid overdose antidote

There is no disputing that North Carolina, much like every other state, has seen abuse of both heroin and prescription opioids take a truly astounding toll on public health. Indeed, statistics from the state Department of Health and Human Services reveal that over 1,000 people lose their lives to heroin or prescription opioid overdoses every year, while fatal overdoses involving these substances have increased by over 320 percent from 1999 to 2014.

As discouraging as this is, the good news is that lawmakers finally seem to understand just how much of a problem this is and are now taking the necessary actions. By way of example, consider the General Assembly's unanimous passage of Senate Bill 734.

The bill, which took immediate effect after being signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory a few weeks back, gave the state's health director the authority to prescribe naloxone hydrochloride via a standing order good throughout the entire state.

For his part, the health director signed the standing order, such that pharmacies throughout the Tar Heel State are now free to dispense naloxone hydrochloride to any qualified party.

"(This bill is) going to allow not just deputies or emergency response teams to save lives, it's going to let parents, spouses and loved ones save lives, and then give those people (who overdose on drugs) a second chance," said McCrory.

For those unfamiliar with naloxone hydrochloride, it is a drug designed to reverse opioid overdoses by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain. It can be administered via nasal spray or subcutaneous injection, and takes only seconds to work. To date, it has been credited with saving thousands of lives.

It's worth noting that both state health officials and Gov. McCrory indicated that SB 734 is really only the first step, and that more needs to be done to address the state's problem with heroin and prescription drugs.

To that end, they are advocating the following:

  • The provision of additional treatment for those who have overdosed on heroin and prescription drugs to prevent a reoccurrence
  • The creation of a prescription monitoring program such that physicians could see if patients had been securing prescription opioids from other providers
  • The allocation of $30 million for "improving the lives of people with mental illness and substance use disorders," with a portion of the funds being earmarked for recovery courts

It's highly encouraging to see state lawmakers adopting a more progressive attitude toward this issue, putting public health interests ahead of incarceration.

If you've are under investigation or have been charged with any manner of drug crime, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible as your rights and your freedom are at stake.

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