California Approves Widespread Use of Naloxone

By Paul Gaita 02/13/14

The Golden State has joined several other states across the nation in spreading the opiate overdose prevention drug to emergency rooms and first responders.

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Gov. Jerry Brown Shutterstock

California Governor Jerry Brown is the latest lawmaker to join the growing national call for greater access to naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of overdose from heroin and other opioids.

In October 2013, Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 635, which expanded the use of naloxone, a non-addictive, federally approved drug also known by its brand name, Narcan. The drug is an opioid antagonist that prevents heroin and prescription opioids from binding to the receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which cause the body to slow down until breathing is stopped. Thousands of emergency rooms and ambulances have stocked the drug across the country, and to date it has reversed more than 10,000 overdoses in those environments.

But the drug has not been made widely available to the public, where it has the greatest opportunity to prevent overdoses. California launched a pilot program in 2008 to allow drug users, their families, health care professionals, and addiction counselors in seven counties to administer naloxone in an emergency while avoiding any civil or criminal liability via the state's Good Samaritan law. Assembly Bill 635, which took effect on January 1, 2014, extended the pilot program across the entire state of California.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is spearheading a campaign to publicize the effectiveness of naloxone and encouraging parents, spouses, and friends of established or suspected opioid addicts to request a prescription for the drug from a doctor or addiction treatment program. Fifty-two naloxone distribution programs are currently available in 17 states, with many reporting consistent positive results.

On February 11, White House Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske underscored the effectiveness of naloxone as part of a larger battle against the overwhelming rise in heroin use, which results in the deaths of more than 100 people across the United States every day.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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