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Changes in Ohio Law to Prevent Opiate Overdose Deaths

On March 11 2014, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 170 into law. HB 170 made sweeping changes to the law in Ohio with regard to a drug known as Naxolone, used to prevent or reverse the effects of opiate overdose, including difficulty breathing, sleepiness, low blood pressure, and even death. Naxolone, brand name Narcan, can be administered as an injection or as a nasal spray. Naloxone does not reverse overdoses that are caused by non-opioid drugs, such as cocaine, benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanex, Klonopin and Valium), methamphetamines, or alcohol.

According to the bill's sponsors, per statistics kept by the Ohio Department of Health, drug overdoses in Ohio have increased 440% in the past 10 years. Additionally, 1,765 Ohio residents died of unintentional drug overdoses in 2011, which is the equivalent of five Ohioans dying every day. According to Attorney General Mike DeWine, an average of 11 people die just from heroin overdoses each week in Ohio.

The changes in Ohio law with House Bill 170 will allow for an individual to acquire the drug for someone else. Health care professionals will be able to prescribe naxolone to a friend or family member of an individual at risk for opiate overdose without ever examining the potential recipient of the drug.

Under certain circumstances, the bill grants immunity to those who administer the drug to someone suffering from an opiate overdoes. The immunity provided in the bill is from (1) criminal prosecution for the unauthorized practice of medicine or for drug offenses, (2) actions by professional licensing boards, and (3) administrative action. The immunity extends to certain emergency responders, family members or friends, or other people who are in a position to help with some qualifications.

In late 2013, Senate Bill 57 established a pilot project in Lorain County, Ohio whereby qualified emergency responders who serve in that county may obtain and administer naloxone to a person suffering from an apparent opioid-related overdose in order to revive the person. This pilot program will last for one year, beginning November 1, 2013. According to a press release issued by state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, approximately 20 lives have been saved by officers of the Lorain Police Department administering naloxone between November 2013 and February 2014.

The Ohio Department of Health, through projects such as Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone) seeks to reduce the number of opiate overdose deaths in Ohio. Ultimately, the program in place in Lorain County could be expanded to the entire state of Ohio.

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