Bill allowing easier access to heroin overdose drugs passes final committee
Senate Bill 23, a bill to increase access to heroin overdose antidote drugs, passed its final committee in the Alaska House unanimously Friday after making its way through the Senate last year.
The bill grants immunity to those prescribing, providing or administering an opioid overdose drug. If the bill becomes law, pharmacies could legally dispense opioid overdose drugs, such as Naloxone or Narcan, to members of the public without a prescription. Anyone could administer the drug — in the form of a nasal spray or injection — to someone showing signs of an overdose, without fear of prosecution.
“Usually, when there’s a drug like this it could be open to abuse or it could hurt them,” explained Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat. “This bill is amazing. It doesn’t hurt anybody, but it can save their life.”
Opioid overdose drugs are non-addictive, and aren’t known to have adverse side effects — even when mistakenly administered. Ellis calls it a “miracle drug,” with the potential to bring people back from the brink of death.
“It doesn’t hurt them, no matter what,” Ellis said. “They could just be asleep and if you injected them or gave them the nasal spray, it would not hurt them.”
Stores in Alaska like Walgreens and Fred Meyer have already shown interesting in carrying the product, which ranges in price from $40 to $78 per dose depending on insurance. Certain insurance companies may cover the cost of the drug completely.
Ellis says heroin has become an epidemic in Alaska over the course of the last 15 years.
“I’ve been talking about this for 12 years,” Ellis said. “Nobody really paid any attention.”
This year, the bill gained strong momentum in the house, being co-sponsored by five representatives — both Republican and Democrat.
Republican Rep. Lynn Gattis of Wasilla says she signed on to the bill because of overwhelming support in her district.
“There’s a particular grandmother that comes to mind, and she spoke up in a large community forum and she said we as mothers, we as parents, we have to start talking about this heroin situation,” Gattis said. “Quite frankly, if our kids are dying, they’re overdosing, they’re hooked on heroin — we have to, as parents, acknowledge that.”
On Monday, the House passed a resolution to suspend all non-budget related bills from committees and the floor. However, the House judiciary committee allowed SB 23 to be heard later in the week. Gattis says she’s hopeful an exception will be made to allow it for a vote on the floor.
“I have high hopes that, even though it’s huge to be talking about the budget, that we recognize on both sides of the aisle that this is about saving lives,” Gattis said.
When asked whether he would allow the bill to be taken up on the floor ahead of budget bills, House Rules Chair Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said he’d look at the bill and evaluate it when a calendar request has been submitted.
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