Overdose Deaths Push Rhode Island to Make Antidote Easier to Get

By ERIKA NIEDOWSKI | March 18, 2014

Rhode Island’s health department director has taken emergency steps to address an overdose crisis by making an overdose antidote more widely available, including to law enforcement agencies.

The emergency regulations adopted this month say the state is facing “a severe prescription and street-drug overdose crisis” and that expanded access to naloxone has become “immediately necessary to save lives.”

The regulations allow for naloxone – also known as Narcan – to be prescribed not only to a person experiencing an overdose or at risk of one, but to family members and friends in a position to assist. Police departments would be able to obtain and administer Narcan under a standing order from a prescriber.

Health Department Director Michael Fine has called on all municipal police departments to carry Narcan. Rhode Island State Police have said all troopers will be trained in its use and will carry it, and some officers in the Charlestown and Richmond departments either plan to carry it or already do so.

Rhode Island reported 55 accidental overdose deaths this year through March 4, about twice the normal number. Officials have reported an increase in fatalities associated with fentanyl, a powerful prescription painkiller implicated in a string of overdoses in the Northeast, in some cases in combination with heroin.

Naloxone is a prescription medication that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. Emergency responders in Rhode Island already use it.

In an introduction to the emergency regulations, the health department said that “more lives could be saved if naloxone … were available to people with drug addiction, their families and other people and organizations likely to be in a position to assist a person at risk of an opioid-related overdose.”

The regulations were effective as of March 3.

Laypeople who administer naloxone “in good faith” to someone they believe has overdosed are already protected from civil liability or criminal prosecution under a “Good Samaritan” law enacted in 2012.

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