We’re facing a serious drug problem in our state and country. With an average of five Ohioans dying every day, drug overdose has been the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio since 2007. There were 2,110 overdose deaths in 2013, which is a 10-percent increase from 2012. Furthermore, over 72 percent of these deaths were caused by opioids.
During the last General Assembly, a bill was signed into law that currently allows addicted individuals, along with their family and friends, to obtain and possess a non-abused substance called naloxone. Naloxone has only one use, which is to reverse an opioid-related overdose, and increased access to this overdose antidote has already resulted in numerous lives being saved. Although access has been increased, prescribers are currently required to be present when furnishing the substance. This requirement has somewhat limited the potential level of access to naloxone, so State Representative Jeffery Rezabek and I have sponsored House Bill 4.
House Bill 4 will remove this requirement and allow physicians to extend their authority through the use of written protocols. Under House Bill 4, after receiving a written physician protocol, pharmacists and other individuals will be permitted to furnish naloxone to individuals at risk of an opioid-related overdose, along with the families and friends of these individuals. While distributing this life-saving medication, they are required to strictly follow the instructions that are given to them through the protocols. The use of physician protocols is not a new idea and is typically used to increase access. As an example among other procedures, Ohio currently permits protocols to be used for some immunizations. Six states currently allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription, and twelve states allow individuals in the general public to dispense naloxone without a prescription.
House Bill 4 is just one piece of the overall approach to address the opioid epidemic in the state of Ohio. Last General Assembly, we successfully passed legislation to prevent individuals from becoming addicted, stop diversion, and increase access to treatment. We’re currently reviewing other bills that continue these initiatives, which hopefully can put a stop to this serious epidemic.
Living after an overdose is often dependent upon emergency personnel arriving and administering the antidote, but giving families and friends increased access to naloxone will result in greater opportunities to stabilize users before first responders arrive. Last week, after months of work, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 4 into law. It is my hope that the bill will result in more lives being saved, which will give individuals a second chance and an opportunity to enter treatment.