Lawmakers aim to increase access to opiate overdose medication

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RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers are attempting to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic with a slew of bills that aim to widen the availability of the opiate overdose medication naloxone.

“We are facing a crisis in Virginia and in the nation, losing more people to opioid overdose than to car crashes,” said Rep. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax.

She is sponsoring HB 1449, which “will allow individuals trained and authorized by the Department of Behavioral Health, in coordination with the Board of Pharmacy, to go into the community with the life-saving antidote naloxone so they can get to the people who are most at risk,” Boysko said.

Her bill is one of five pieces of legislation this session that seek to make naloxone more available to the public.

A standing order for the drug was issued by State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine in November, making naloxone available to any Virginian at pharmacies across the state without a prescription. The price is $120 before insurance.

“Pharmacies may now dispense naloxone without a prescription, but logistical, financial and stigma-related reasons keep some of the most at-risk individuals from getting it there, and many pharmacies do not carry it,” said Rep. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton. He has introduced HB 1453, a bill nearly identical to Boysko’s.

Even when naloxone is available at a pharmacy, some people will buy the drug without knowing how to properly administer it, rendering the drug ineffective. Programs such as REVIVE!, offered by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, teach citizens how to use naloxone, but they are not allowed to distribute the drug to participating students once the class is over.

Some people may worry that the widened availability of naloxone would encourage opiate users to continue using illegal drugs without fear of death. However, the Behavioral Health Department’s website says the drug is “not a safety net that allows individuals with opioid-use disorder to continue or increase use” because naloxone induces the recipient into withdrawal, which the site says is “extremely unpleasant.”

Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed SB 1031, which would add employees of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and the medical examiner’s office to the list of people allowed to obtain and administer the opioid antagonist. That bill is awaiting action in the House of Delegates.

Boysko said she is optimistic that her bill will be among the legislation passed involving naloxone.

“I look forward to seeing it pass along with the other legislative efforts so that we can help people get onto the road to recovery,” Boysko said.

By Taylor Knight with Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.