With epidemic rates of prescription opioid and
All too often, however, these emergency responders do not arrive in time. State law bars family members and friends who may be in the best position to save the life of a person experiencing an overdose from obtaining a prescription for naloxone in their own name and administering this medication in an emergency. The
Recent data on overdose deaths from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reveals sobering information about the relationship between
While overdose rates attributed to prescription opioids have fallen across Maryland, there has been an increase in fatal heroin overdoses, with young people tragically experiencing the brunt of this epidemic. Overall, drug-overdose deaths increased by 6 percent from 2011 to 2012, and heroin-related deaths of persons ages 15 to 24 years old increased by 53 percent.
Maryland's health officials have wisely adopted a public health response to this problem. They have promoted outreach to health care providers to help identify and respond to opioid misuse, the development of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and support for innovative local efforts. These efforts should stir frank discussions with physicians about the misuse of and dependence on opioids, and earlier intervention and referrals for treatment.
A naloxone access program is an indispensable piece of this public health response. It would increase the survival chances of all persons suffering from opioid overdose — whether from prescription drugs or heroin — and limit the serious and costly medical consequences of delayed intervention.
A bill to create a program to make naloxone more readily available to persons trained to identify overdose symptoms and administer the medication,
The proposed Overdose Response Program would build on the success of the Baltimore City Health Department's Staying Alive Drug Overdose and Prevention Response Program. This program has trained more than 3,000 individuals on how to identify and respond to overdose, including the administration of naloxone. The program has documented more than 220 overdose reversals since its inception in 2004.
While the Staying Alive program should be replicated across the state, its reach would still be restricted by legal barriers on prescribing and dispensing naloxone to family members and friends who can immediately administer the medication prior to calling 911.
Other states have documented that naloxone access programs save lives. In 2010, the
The fact is that opioid overdose is a significant public health issue in Maryland that requires a long-term, comprehensive prevention and treatment response. It is also a life-threatening emergency that affects individuals, families and communities every day. Expanded access to naloxone would be another step in the right direction and could make the difference between life and death for our citizens.
Ellen Weber is a professor of law and director of the Drug Policy and Public Health Strategies Clinic at the