California Moves Toward Making Overdose Antidote Widely Available in Pharmacies

Press Release April 7, 2014
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Meghan Ralston 323-681-5224</p>

SACRAMENTO, CA—Today, Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s overdose prevention bill (AB 1535) to expand access to naloxone in pharmacies sailed through its first committee hearing with unanimous, bipartisan support. Advocates are applauding legislators coming together in agreement on the importance of expanding access to the lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of opiate drugs, preventing fatal drug overdoses. In recent years, overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death in the state, killing more people than motor vehicle accidents.

The bill would permit pharmacists to furnish the lifesaving drug to family members, people who may be in contact with a person at risk of an opiate overdose, or to the patient requesting it, pursuant to guidelines to be developed by the state’s boards of pharmacy and medicine. It also ensures proper education and training for both the pharmacists and the consumers.

"California’s overdose crisis remains one of the state’s most serious health problems," said Bloom. “Pharmacists are highly trained, highly trusted healthcare professionals. This bill makes it easier for them to help prevent a fatal drug overdose,” he added.

In 2009, more than 3,500 Californians died from an accidental drug overdose. Research published by the US Centers for Disease Control and other federal health agencies shows that laypersons with naloxone can immediately reverse a potentially fatal overdose in addition to calling 911 or seeking emergency medical assistance. California’s ‘911 Good Samaritan’ law provides limited legal protections for witnesses seeking medical help at the scene of an overdose.

“Empowering pharmacists to help families prevent overdose fatalities is a low-cost way of starting to tackle our state’s overdose problem,” said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager of the bill’s co-sponsor the Drug Policy Alliance. “When the two parties can work together, incredible things can happen. We’re extremely grateful for this unanimous support of the bill,” added Ralston.

Naloxone was approved by the FDA in 1971 and has been used in emergency rooms and ambulances for decades. It is generic, non-narcotic, non-abusable and works within minutes to restore breathing in people overdosing on opiate drugs such oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin. It can be administered either intramuscularly via injection or intranasally via a nasal atomizer attached to a syringe.

Family members of young people who lost their lives to opiate overdose, or who struggle with opiate addiction were vocal—and emotional—in their support for Bloom’s bill.

Denise Cullen, co-founder of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) said, “I work with so many families recovering from the trauma of losing a loved one to a drug overdose and they are cheering today. On a human level, this bipartisan show of support for trying to end California’s overdose crisis is very moving. We’re so grateful that our voices are finally being heard.”

“This is so encouraging because it really shows us that both Republicans and Democrats care about the struggle and tragedy of thousands of California families,” said Gretchen Burns Bergman, founder of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing). “A New PATH is proud to represent the voices of so many of those families in this effort to pass this bill,” she added.

The bill now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. 

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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