Overdoses from opiate prescription drugs like Percocet and Oxycontin have tripled in Colorado in the last 10 years, and account for as many annual deaths as car accidents. Naloxone is a prescription medication that reverses the effect of opiates in the brain, stopping a near-fatal overdose in its tracks — a literal life saver.
Colorado’s Harm Reduction Action Center began a naloxone distribution program in May 2012 with the support of Dr. Jane Kennedy, a Denver-area addictions psychiatrist. The program has since trained and prescribed naloxone to over 100 individuals, and has already saved 30 lives. But more needed to be done, becauseColorado state law barred providers from prescribing naloxone in the name of “third party” individuals — most often the family, friends, and service providers of opiate users — who are often in the best position to witness and respond to an overdose.
Last winter Senator Irene Aguilar, M.D., (D-Denver) convened physicians, pharmacists, the Harm Reduction Action Center, the Drug Policy Alliance, and many other stakeholders to address this issue. And after multiple conversations about physician liability, the Colorado Medical Society was able to actively support legislation granting third parties access to naloxone. Soon after, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, and Colorado Psychiatric Society signed on as official sponsors of Senate Bill 13-014 — Colorado’s third-party naloxone bill.
The bill was the result of hard work by very dedicated people, including Network Attorney Corey Davis who helped us with numerous legal questions. His knowledge of states’ laws and regulations related to naloxone access was invaluable.
On Valentine’s Day 2013, SB-14 passed on a vote of 6-1. The bill moved easily onto the Senate floor, where it passed with broad, bi-partisan support.
On March 19, 2013, SB-14 was heard in the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee under the sponsorship of Representative Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood). Riding on the momentum built in the Senate, SB-14 passed through the Committee on a vote of 11-0 and shortly thereafter passed the House floor, again with bi-partisan support.
Finally, Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB-14 into law on May 10, 2013. Two weeks later, Dr. Kennedy wrote the State’s first prescriptions for third-party naloxone to the staff of the Harm Reduction Action Center. Moving forward, the Center is contracting with homeless service providers, detoxification facilities, methadone clinics, and jails to ensure that their staff members who work in direct contact with high risk clients will be adequately prepared to respond in the case of an on-site overdose.
This is a public health initiative, based on science, data, law and compassion. It worked because politicians, police, health care providers, and the communities they serve saw that injection drug users and those addicted to prescription pain killers are identifiable human beings caught in a daily and sometimes tragic struggle, and they don’t have to die from an overdose. They are our children, parents, friends, and community members. To learn more, visit our website at www.harmreductioncenter.org.
This blog post was prepared by Lisa Raville, Executive Director, Harm Reduction Action Center, and Sarah Axelrath, AmeriCorps VISTA, Harm Reduction Action Center.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. The views expressed in this post do not represent those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.