Smyk responds to letters on Naloxone

December 15, 2017

In a recent issue of the Cape Gazette, two letters to the editor mischaracterized my position on the use of naloxone. Sold under the brand name Narcan, as well as others, naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose within a few minutes of being administered.

Paramedics throughout our state carry naloxone as part of their standard gear and have saved the lives of numerous opioid addicts who have overdosed on heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone and other opioid drugs.

I have never argued that using naloxone was detrimental. In fact, in 2014 I supported the passage of Senate Bill 219, giving opioid addicts' friends and family easier access to the drug. I think this was a prudent law, providing those closest to a person with a known propensity for opioid abuse a better opportunity to render life-saving assistance.

Earlier this year, I backed the enactment of Senate Bill 48 (as amended) shielding pharmacists from civil, criminal, and professional liability when they dispensed naloxone in good faith under specified conditions. The practical effect of the law is that it made naloxone available over-the-counter, following a brief training on appropriate use.

However, I opposed a law authorizing police officers to carry and administer Naloxone. This law leaves the decision to utilize the drug with the leadership of each police agency. Some departments have chosen to require their officers to carry, while others have not.

My main issue with this statute is not naloxone. Rather, by giving police officers duties assigned customarily to paramedics, I believe the law has placed law-enforcement agencies on a dangerous slippery slope, potentially leading them to perform an increasing number of medical interventions in the field. This blurring of professional responsibilities could ultimately lead to decreased effectiveness that places the lives of both citizens and first responders at greater risk.

Although a valuable asset, naloxone treats only a single symptom of the prevalent abuse of opioid drugs. As policy-makers grapple with this challenge, I think we need to fully appreciate the nature of this societal addiction.

While some habitual users became inadvertently addicted through the legitimate use of liberally prescribed opioid pain medications, many others made deliberate decisions to illicitly acquire and ingest these substances.

Sadly, many addicts have no interest in ending their dependence. Nearly every medical first responder with whom I have discussed naloxone has had an experience of using the drug to repeatedly revive the same person several times over the span of a few days and, in some cases, multiple times in a single day.

Naloxone has provided a desirable safety net with the unintended effect of shielding heavy opioid abusers from the potentially deadly consequences of their actions. I am not suggesting opioid addicts should be placed at greater risk, but it could be argued that the widespread availability of naloxone has reduced the dangers associated with overdosing and removed a factor that might have otherwise motivate abusers to seek help.

For those genuinely interested in cutting their tether to opioid drugs, I support doing all we can to expand access to treatment for these individuals.

State Rep. Steve Smyk


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