Illegitimate use of narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone has been on the rise in Massachusetts. In the past few months an unprecedented 140 people (at least) have died due to suspected heroine overdose. From 2000 to 2014 opiate overdose cases increased 90%. To combat this, Governor Deval Patrick has directed the Department of Public Health (DPH) to take action. These steps are geared towards combating overdoses, stopping the epidemic from getting worse, helping those already addicted to recover and mapping a long-term solution to ending the widespread opiate abuse.
- First responders are now permitted to carry and administer Naloxone (Narcan). This allows a greater chance that Narcan will be administered soon enough to reverse the overdose. People who fear a family member or friend may overdose will also have access to Naloxone through through standing order prescription in pharmacies.
- Prescription of any hydrocodone-only formulation (Zohydro) is prohibited pending measures to safeguard against the potential for misuse.
- DPH-Mandated prescription monitoring by physicians and pharmacies.
- Addition of personnel to the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention from organizations and parties involved to make recommendations on how do best resolve this health emergency.
Massachusetts is not the only state acting to expedite first response treatment of opioid overdose. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey issued a waiver to more than 28,000 certified EMTs allowing them to carry & administer Narcan. This waiver also provided them with a measure of legal protection from lawsuits related to administration of the drug. According to the state Office of the Medical Examiner, drug-related deaths increased from 843 in 2010 to 1,294 in 2012.
Governor Christie just recently announced the launch of a pilot program that will train and equip police officers to administer Narcan as an antidote to people suffering from an overdose of heroin or prescription narcotics. This pilot program is based in Ocean & Monmouth counties which have both seen significant increases in heroin overdose deaths. Acting Attorney General Hoffman worked with Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato and Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni and other State agencies to create a standardized law enforcement training module that can be readily adopted by any county.
New Jersey’s Narcan pilot program includes the following:
- Local law enforcement agencies must utilize a standard operating procedure for Narcan use.
- Agencies must designate a Narcan Program Coordinator. This coordinator will be responsible for training all police personnel and ensure Narcan kits are deployed properly.
- Training and distribution of Narcan kits to the municipal Program Coordinators are overseen by a County Coordinator.
- Training through a “Train the Trainers” model: An officer participates in training sessions conducted by Dr. Lavelle, an emergency room physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, then takes that training back to his or her policing agency and trains fellow officers.
- Each municipal officer’s name and training certification is supplied to the County Coordinator. Once this has been done, Narcan kits are prescribed for each officer.
These programs are a great start in the renewed fight against heroine & prescription drug overdose. The hope is that the details will be ironed out to make the programs run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and that more states will sign up. And, hopefully, treatment for overdose will arrive & be administered in time to have the greatest effect.