Opioid overdose is at epidemic levels in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fatal drug poisonings, most of which are drug overdoses, increased nearly 600 percent from 1980 to 2008 — from approximately 6,100 to 36,500 per year. Hospital admissions for non-fatal overdose have also increased substantially. Most of this increase is driven by prescription drugs, particularly prescription painkillers— such as oxycodone and hydrocodone — which now kill more people every year than heroin and cocaine combined.
States and localities have implemented a number of legal and regulatory interventions to address this epidemic. These include the creation and strengthening of prescription monitoring programs (PMPs), drug take-back programs and initiatives to increase access to naloxone, a medication that effectively reverses opioid overdose. States are also taking measures to increase access to evidence-based substance abuse treatment, improve prescriber training, and evaluate whether existing programs are having the desired effect. .
This Primer on Opioid-related Public Health Emergencies provides key information and visual snapshots of federal, state, tribal, and local emergency declarations in response to the opioid crisis across the U.S.
Supervised consumption spaces (SCS) allow people who use drugs to consume those drugs in a controlled setting, under supervision. SCS provide safe injecting equipment and other health supplies and, in most cases, also provide services including medical care, counseling, and referrals to drug treatment. While many states have taken steps towards authorizing or implementing SCS, the federal government has taken a strong stance against them.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have now modified their laws to increase access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose to heroin or other opioid painkillers. The Network was recently asked about the number of states in which naloxone can be purchased “over the counter”. While there are a wide variety of steps that states, localities, and private businesses can take to increase access to naloxone, they cannot make it available “over the counter” or “without a prescription.”
July 30, 2:30 - 4:00 p.m. EST. Data can be a powerful tool for developing harm reduction policies and programs but the complexities of data sharing can prove challenging. In this webinar, co-sponsored by the Network and All In: Data for Community Health, presenters from health departments in Massachusetts and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania will present case studies about their work to de-identify and link datasets to address the opioid epidemic. View the playback.
The Network for Public Health Law is at the forefront of legal and policy work related to the current opioid epidemic. As a national leader with extensive knowledge of proven and emerging legal interventions to prevent and treat overdose, the Network routinely assists government and health agencies at the local, tribal, state and federal levels, as well as clinicians, policymakers and advocates in integrating this knowledge into laws, policies and actions. As a result, the Network plays a key role in generating and distributing evidence-based knowledge and effective practices that protect and promote public health. View recent Network activities on the opioid epidemic.
State and local public health officials, regulatory boards, and other stakeholders may have numerous legal and policy questions regarding legal interventions to reduce drug overdose. These include questions regarding practitioner scope of practice, data privacy, liability, and insurance mechanisms. Specific questions with which the Network can assist include:
The Network has a great deal of expertise and experience in assisting health officials, legislators, advocates and other stakeholders with legal approaches to reducing drug overdose. The Network has developed a list of states that have passed laws designed to increase access to naloxone by modifying scope of practice laws and encouraging “Good Samaritans” to call 911 in the event of an overdose. Staff attorneys have also provided technical assistance to a number of states that have introduced such laws. The Network can provide resources on the legal and regulatory aspects of PMPs as well as insurance requirements regarding coverage of substance abuse treatment.
For legal technical assistance and support on drug overdose prevention and harm reduction:
You can also call your region to get legal assistance at:
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The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, please consult specific legal counsel. For more information on the type of legal assistance the Network can provide, please see frequently asked questions.