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California's New Opiate Overdose Prevention Bill Paving The Way To Save Lives

On August 14th, 2014, the California legislature passed an important drug overdose prevention bill which permits pharmacies to carry the opiate overdose antidote naloxone (Narcam). Pharmacies must follow the procedures developed by the Medical Board of California and the Board of Pharmacy. All that remains to put this bill into action is a signature from California's Governor, Jerry Brown.

California was one of the first states to push the sale of naloxone without a prescription alongside Washington, New Mexico and Rhode Island, where naloxone is becoming increasingly more accessible to patients without a prescription. This is mostly due to an agreement between pharmacists and physicians to get the antidote into more hands to help save lives. Vermont and New York have recently passed similar bills to fight the opiate epidemic.

“The bipartisan support of the Legislature is gratifying and will directly help many California families,” said Assembly member Bloom (D-Santa Monica). “As the bill heads to the Governor’s desk, I am committed to continuing our efforts to stop the epidemic of overdose deaths.”

“This bill reaching the Governor is a triumph for all Californians who love someone at risk of an overdose,” said Meghan Ralston, Harm Reduction Manager of bill co-sponsor the Drug Policy Alliance. “California has thousands of pharmacies, and lives can be lost in the minutes waiting for a police officer or ambulance to arrive with naloxone to reverse an overdose. This would make it easier for caregivers and family members to keep naloxone on hand for use in those critical moments."

Naloxone is a drug that I have written extensively about because of it's increase in popularity. It is widely known as “the second chance drug.” It is generic, non-narcotic and most importantly safe to use. It has no effect on a person that is not overdosing from opiates, so there is no risk of abuse. It was approved by the FDA in 1971 and has been used in the healthcare field, particularly emergency rooms and ambulances for decades. It's popularity has grown immensely over the past few years because of the dramatic increases in overdoses around the country. Naloxone can be administered as an intramuscular injection or by a nasal spray. The nasal spray is administered by an atomizer and is the more common form used by first responders and law enforcement.

The bill (AB 1535), made it's way to a unanimous win, running unopposed throughout its movement through Legislature thanks to bipartisan support in committee hearings. “It's a model that can be followed by other states,” said Ralston. “This approach reduces some of the traditional constraints that make it time-consuming or difficult to implement pharmacy sales of naloxone directly to the consumer. It represents a quantum leap in overdose prevention in California.”

The ability for caregivers and family members to go to a pharmacy and purchase this life-saving medication will make a huge impact in the overdose numbers in California. Expect to see many states follow their lead and draw up similar bills. If all states made naloxone legal for purchase without a prescription, we as nation could save so many lives from this terrible issue, giving people a second chance at life and hopefully leading some of them on a journey to sobriety.

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