Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384
On August 2 Governor Pataki signed a life-saving bill that will keep hundreds of New Yorkers from dying of overdoses from opioid drugs such as heroin and OxyContin. Approximately 900 people died from overdoses in New York City last year alone. This bill, A.7162 (Dinowitz) / S. 4869 (Hannon), will offer legal protection for anyone who prescribes or administers Narcan (naloxone hydrochloride injection), a drug that prevents opioid overdose.
Since 1994, medical providers in NYC have followed the lead of health departments and community-based programs in Chicago, San Francisco and Baltimore who have prescribed Narcan to drug users so that they can administer this life-saving medication to fellow drug users. The drug stops damage to the brain caused by lack of oxygen, thereby leaving the user unharmed. Prior to the signing of this bill, physicians and public health professionals risked professional sanction for prescribing and distributing Narcan to individuals who subsequently might administer it to someone overdosing. This bill is a critical adjunct to the ongoing program.
“This is about saving lives,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading drug policy reform organization. “No matter how much you don’t want people to use drugs, it’s vital to have a fallback strategy for those who do.” To achieve the greatest success and save the most lives, Narcan should also be made available over-the-counter. Nevertheless, New York has taken a big step in the right direction, following in the path of other states that have successfully saved hundred of people from overdose and death.
Although six people died of drug overdoses in the last few weeks in Manhattan, reports that several deaths were prevented because of the city’s overdose prevention campaign have filtered back to syringe exchange programs. “We have already prescribed naloxone to more than 500 New Yorkers at syringe exchange programs and have had over 40 heroin overdose reversals reported,” said Dr. Sharon Stancliff, medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. “This law not only clarifies my role as a prescriber it also protects my patients as they prevent overdose deaths among friends and loved ones.”
The Drug Policy Alliance began advocating for this legislation in 2003, shortly after its success in passing similar legislation in New Mexico in 2001 and in Connecticut in 2003. The New York law is modeled on successful programs in other regions of the US, including Chicago, New Mexico, Baltimore, Connecticut and San Francisco. In New Mexico, approximately 140 lives have been saved since similar protections were established, and for the first time in eight years the overdose rate dropped in 2004. In Chicago alone, some 334 overdoses have been reversed since the start of the program.
In addition to providing protection for both people who prescribe and those who administer, this new law will also establish a statewide reporting system to record and monitor opioid-related deaths, including age, gender, ethnicity, and geographic location. Such information will be invaluable in measuring the success of the new overdose prevention programs, and in identifying opportunities for program expansion.