Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jul 2015
Source: Gadsden Times, The (AL)
Copyright: 2015 The Gadsden Times
Author: Donna Thornton


Many pieces of legislation may be touted as life-saving, but probably
few have greater direct life-saving potential than a law passed in the
last session that increases access to a medication that can reverse
the deadly effects of a drug overdose.

Drug overdoses have increased dramatically in Etowah County in recent
years. A great many of the overdose deaths recorded come from the use
of heroin or opiate-related drugs such as pain medications.

"We're seeing two or three a week," Etowah County Sheriff Todd
Entrekin said.

"Just the other day, I had to talk to a mother after her son
overdosed. She had no idea he was using heroin."

Many families are aware of drug problems, Chief Deputy Michael Barton
said, and the law would allow family members or an individual at risk
of drug overdose to get a prescription for the opioid antagonist
naloxone hydrochloride, approved by the Federal Drug Administration
for treating an overdose. It only works on opiate-based drugs, but
Entrekin said his understanding is that it is not harmful to give if
it's not known what the person overdosed on.

Doctors and dentists who prescribed the drug and people who administer
it in good faith would have immunity from prosecution.

The law also allows people immunity from prosecution for some offenses
if they seek help for someone who has overdosed.

Entrekin said when officers are at the scene of a drug overdose, they
typically find other people taking drugs as well as paraphernalia and
drugs. The law should alleviate the worry that if a drug user calls
police about a friend's OD, he or she will end up in jail.

"They don't need to worry about that," Entrekin said. "They need to
worry about saving someone's life.

"We're in the business of arresting people for drug offenses," the
sheriff said, "but saving lives is more important."

Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, said when the bill came up in the
Senate Judiciary Committee, it didn't take a lot of discussion to 
approve it.

"The bill is designed to increase access and immunity related to the
dispensing and use of counter-narcotic medications, especially by law
enforcement," he said. "Often times, when an individual is in the
midst of an overdose, there is a very limited window of opportunity to
administer Narcan or other such counter-narcotics."

Narcan is a name brand of naloxone hydrochloride.

"This bill will allow key individuals, such as family members of a
recovering addict or law enforcement, to have access to Narcan so that
it can be administered in as quick a time frame as possible," Williams
said. "It is hoped that it will become as vital to saving lives as
portable defibrillators and epinephrine pens.

"I have seen it administered by an EMT during an overdose situation,
and it is amazing what it can do."

The component of the law that will let law enforcement officers
administer it sets a Jan. 1, 2016, deadline for the Alabama Department
of Public Health to develop a training program for officers. Barton
said the law does not require law enforcement agencies to carry the
drug, and Etowah County will need to find a funding source.

Entrekin said he intends to make the opioid antagonist available for
officers - starting with the county's school resource officers. "I
want to at least provide it for our SROs because they are in contact
with an at-risk population," he said.

"If any one of our school children (needs) help, we want to provide it

It will be a challenge to provide the drug for all deputies. Entrekin
said the drug costs about $50 a dose, and Barton said it has a shelf
life of about a year. While that's a small price to pay to save a
life, it would be a big expense to give all deputies the drug just in
case they encounter someone overdosing.

Once the state health department develops the training program for
administering the drug, Entrekin said, "We will have people in the
first class."
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