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Bipartisan Bill On Opioid Overdose Drug Advances

Jennifer Lang

A bipartisan bill to address one aspect of the opioid epidemic is working its way through the North Carolina legislature. The bill would allow any pharmacy to prescribe an overdose reversal drug to just about anyone.

In North Carolina and nationwide, opioid-related deaths have skyrocketed since the early 2000s. That includes overdoses from prescription pain relievers and heroine.

  In 2013, North Carolina legalized a drug called naloxone that reverses overdoses. But its distribution has been piecemeal through some doctors and organizations.

State Health Director Dr. Randall Williams says it needs to be easier to access. 

"To me, it's analogous to a lifeguard at the beach," he says. "If somebody is out there drowning, we don't ask how they got in that situation, we just go out there and save them, and then we try to help them from there. But if we don't save them, then we don't have a chance to help them."

Williams told the Senate Committee on Health Care he's in favor of a bill sponsored by two Republicans and a Democrat. It would allow the health director to create a standing order for prescriptions statewide. That means anyone who's at risk of overdosing – or who knows someone at risk – could pick up a prescription.

A senator asked Williams about the risks of naloxone.

"It looks like in a subset of people that have underlying heart conditions that they can develop arrhythmias and pulmonary edema," Williams responded. "But again, in those situations, if we don't use the drug, then we pretty much know that the outcome will be mortality."

In other words, excess fluid in the lungs is still better than immediate death.

In a unanimous vote, the Senate health care committee gave the bill a favorable report and referred it to a judiciary committee.

If it becomes law, the cost of picking up naloxone will likely vary by pharmacy and type of insurance. State health officials say people on Medicaid could get it for as little as $3, while the uninsured may pay up to $140.

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