2016 Session : Lawmakers pass bills aimed at opioids

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Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City addresses the crowd at the Capitol’s “Rally for Recovery.” (Zoe Woolf McGinn)

Lawmakers passed a group of bills aimed at promoting helping opiate addiction and Naloxone, a drug that could be a temporary fix for Utah’s opiate overdose epidemic.

Prescription drug addictions are becoming an urgent problem nationwide, but according to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Utah ranks fourth in the nation for overdose deaths.

Naloxone is a drug that has recently popped up on Utah’s radar. Given through a syringe or a nasal spray, Naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose, essentially bringing the victim back to life. The drug is already used to treat patients in hospital emergency rooms, but this year’s legislation will allow Naloxone to be in the hands of almost anybody.

Legislators and physicians alike seem to be in agreement about the state of the opioid problem. Naloxone can save lives, which solves the immediate public health emergency. But the real solutions need to attack the root of the problem.

“Nobody thinks a fire is a good thing, and all the talk generally is about fire prevention. However, when a fire starts, you need an extinguisher,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. “You need to have a last resort to save people’s lives.”

The House Health and Human Services Committee spoke passionately about the need to change American doctors’ prescribing habits.

Signs at the Capitol’s event for mental health and drug addiction awareness pushed for decriminalization of drug addictions. (Zoe Woolf McGinn)

Attendees at the Capitol’s “Rally for Recovery” for mental health and drug addiction on March 1 represented all facets of the issue. They walked around the Capitol in remembrance of the scores of loved ones lost to drug addiction. Their yardstick signs rooted for separate drug courts, and their chants called for recovery, not prison. They held up signs that said “#iamstigmafree” and “We’re Worth It.”

The opioid package included four different bills.

HB192, sponsored by Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, authorizes a pilot program that will dispense Naloxone to law enforcement divisions, schools, drug and alcohol treatment centers, and organizations that provide services to the homeless. It would also issue grants, particularly to rural areas.

HB238, sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, makes it possible for outreach providers, not just pharmacists and doctors, to give out Naloxone.

HB239, also sponsored by McKell, gives protection from liability to anyone who administers Naloxone in good faith.

HB240, sponsored by Eliason, issues a standing order for all opiate painkiller prescriptions to include a Naloxone prescription.

Now, with the passing of the bills, Naloxone will be easy to come by as society works on destigmatizing, decriminalizing, and understanding drug addiction.

 

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