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News Room: ENQUIRER: Bill would allow prescription, distribution of naloxone

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By: Terry DeMio

A life-saving drug that can be easily administered to overdose victims will be distributed to Kentucky residents at high risk for opiate overdose, whether it’s from prescription painkillers or heroin.

Gov. Steve Beshear is expected in July to sign a bill that will allow physicians to prescribe and pharmacists to distribute naloxone so that a third party can administer the drug to opiate overdose victims. The drug blocks opiate receptors, causing an immediate withdrawal – and breathing life into overdose victims.

Northern Kentucky medical and business professionals advocated in Frankfort for the legislation, initially proposed in 2012 by Rep. Tom Burch, D-Jefferson County. Medical emergency personnel have long been using naloxone, generic for Narcan, to those who have overdosed on prescription painkillers or heroin.

Now, Northern Kentucky leaders vow to figure out how to get enough of the drug to pharmacies, get nasal naloxone kits packaged and, ultimately, provide the pharmaceutical to the people who need it most.

“It is clearly defined that people are dying from opiate overdoses – whether by prescribed medications or heroin,” said Northern Kentucky public health activist Dr. Jeremy Engel. “Either way, with this medication lives have been saved. Once your life’s been saved you have a chance to make better choices. If you’re dead, you don’t.

“I think it’s a win-win-win.”

Engel, a family doctor with St. Elizabeth Physicians in Bellevue, led the regional effort to get the bill passed, telling House Health and Welfare Committee members, that “people are dying” due to opiate overdose and adding, “My toolbox is empty.”

He is partnering with Covington Firefighters Local 38 Vice President Greg Salmons, who has an MBA, to create a business plan through a non-profit organization that will manage the process of getting nasal naloxone kits to people in need.

Salmons is among Covington firefighter union members who advocated distributing the pharmaceutical more than a year ago.

The group explored ways to get naloxone kits to families of addicts living in the farthest corners of Covington to try save lives. The union members set aside some funding and attempted to create a system, but ultimately, they were blocked from the effort when some pharmacists balked at the idea.

Salmons, who many times revived people who had stopped breathing after injecting heroin, said he is glad to help.

“This is exciting,” Salmons said. “This will definitely save people’s lives.”

“Our goal is to reduce the harm caused by accidental overdose of opiates by increasing the availability of naloxone,” Salmons said.

He said numerous stakeholders, from business to medical professionals to elected officials – all of whom are involved in the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact and Response Workgroup – are offering help to create the process and get naloxone out in the region – and statewide.

Engel said the group will figure out how to get enough naloxone here, how to educate people on its prescription and use, figure out how it will be paid for, get insurance companies on board and get it to the people who are “most vulnerable” to opiate overdose.

Despite the tall order, Engel said, it should not take long to get syringes of naloxone with spray heads into the hands of people who need it.

“It’s being done in other regions,” Engel said.

The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy supports the Northern Kentucky effort to create a path for the rest of the state to follow, said Executive Director Van Ingram.

“We think this will set the stage for the rest of the state,” Ingram said. “They’ve been ahead of the state.”

“We’re thrilled it got passed,” Ingram said. “As the availability of naloxone has increased in other states, overdose deaths have decreased. There has been a correlation.”

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which is part of the NKY Heroin Impact and Response Workgroup that Engel created several months ago, stepped up to save the bill after it appeared it would not get a vote in the House standing on its own.

“The NKY Chamber worked tirelessly to insert language into HB366 to allow nasal naloxene to be prescribed as a treatment option,” said Adam Caswell, vice president of public affairs for the chamber. “To continue regional growth, we must have a world-class workforce, and HB366 puts us in a position to rehabilitate those affected by substance abuse into productive members of society.”

Engel of St. Elizabeth Physicians in Bellevue told Health and Welfare Committee members of an urgent need for doctors to get a spray form of naloxone into the public’s hands in light of the state’s -- and nation’s -- heroin crisis.

“My toolbox is empty,” he told the committee then.

Engel was the catalyst for the Northern Kentucky Heroin IMPACT and Response Work Group.

“I fought really hard for it,” Burch said.

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