Obama Administration Announces Plan to Address Rising Heroin Overdose Deaths

Press Release March 9, 2014
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Meghan Ralston 323-681-5224</p>

LOS ANGELES, CA—The Drug Policy Alliance joins overdose prevention advocates across the country in applauding today’s statement by US Attorney General Eric Holder encouraging expanded access to naloxone, an often-overlooked overdose reversal medicine that has been approved by the FDA for decades.

But advocates are also urging the Obama administration to advocate for a more comprehensive array of solutions to address the roots of the overdose crisis.

“Preventing fatal overdose requires a comprehensive solution. While naloxone is an absolutely critical component, we need a scientific, health-based approach to truly address the roots of the problem. This includes improving access to effective, non-coercive drug treatment for everyone who wants it, as well as improving access to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine,” said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Ralston also added that there is a need for policies that make naloxone much more widely available to anyone who may witness an opiate overdose, especially friends and family members of people who use heroin or prescription opioids. "While we applaud Attorney General Holder’s clear support for expanding access to naloxone, particularly among law enforcement and ‘first responders,’ we urge him to clarify that he supports naloxone access for anyone who may be the first person to discover an opiate overdose in progress," said Ralston. The term ‘first responder’ usually describes law enforcement, paramedics and firefighters, Ralston explained, but often family members or friends are the first to witness an overdose.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have amended their laws to increase access to naloxone – with DPA spearheading many of these efforts – resulting in more than 10,000 overdose reversals since 2001. States like Washington and Rhode Island are helping to make naloxone more readily available in pharmacies to people who may witness an overdose, and a bill in California by Assemblymember Richard Bloom to similarly expand naloxone access in pharmacies is currently being considered by the legislature.

In his announcement, Holder also urged support for ‘911 Good Samaritan’ laws. Fourteen states and D.C. have passed such laws in recent years, most of which were spearheaded by DPA.

"It's clear that opiate addiction is an urgent and growing public health crisis … Used in concert with 'Good Samaritan' laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose, naloxone can save lives,'' according to the Justice Department announcement.

“911 Good Samaritan laws need to be passed in every state,” said DPA’s Ralston. “It’s critical to ensure that no one ever delays calling for help at the scene of an overdose out of fear of being arrested for possessing a small amount drugs. These laws are such a no-brainer that it’s hard to understand why every state doesn’t have them yet. We applaud the Attorney General for shining a national spotlight on the importance of these laws.”

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

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