Editorial: Helping to prevent drug-related deaths

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 11:58 PM

Fatal overdose related to opium-based painkillers has spiked across Tennessee in recent years, as have heroin-related deaths in the states bigger cities.

A move in state government to provide first responders with a useful tool in helping curb those deaths is currently underway.

The state senate approved a measure last week toto increase access to naloxone, a drug-overdose “antidote” to a variety of opiates, including heroin and prescription pain pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

“Fatalities caused by opioid overdose can devastate families and communities, and we must do more to prevent these deaths,” said Dr. Patrice A. Harris in an American Medical Association article in 2012. “Educating both physicians and patients about the availability of naloxone and supporting the accessibility of this lifesaving drug will help to prevent unnecessary deaths.”

Senator Doug Overbey and Representative Ryan Williams, co-sponsors of the bill to bring more widespread availability of the naloxone to Tennessee, agree.

“Drug overdoses are preventable and too many families are losing a race against time as they struggle to find help for their addicted loved ones,” said Senator Overbey said in a press release.  “Unfortunately, many young people never make it through the doors of a treatment center to receive the drug.  This legislation allows a person, after receiving appropriate instruction, to administer the prescribed antidote to help avoid a tragedy.”

The senate bill approved last week would authorize health care professionals to prescribe the drug to an opiate user, or a family member or friend “to assist a person experiencing an opiate-related overdose, as long as the doctor provides written communication establishing a factual basis that a person is at risk,” the senator’s email said.

“The bill provides a prescribing physician or person administering the drug immunity from civil liability.”

With so many Tennesseans losing their battles with drugs — the number of overdoses has doubled since 1999 according to a study released last fall — this measure is a no-brainer.

While some may look down on addicts or even one-time abusers of opiod drugs, life is precious, and every reasonable tool to save them should be shared.