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Wide access to naloxone could save lives


The horizons are expanding for a life-saving drug in Colorado.

Naloxone is a safe, nonabusable drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose.

When an overdose occurs, opioid drugs, such as prescription narcotic pain medications or heroin, can dangerously slow or even stop a person’s breathing, leading to death. Emergency medical personnel have used naloxone for decades to safely reverse life-threatening drug overdoses by restoring breathing.

In Colorado, the No. 1 cause of unintentional death is drug overdose, ahead of motor-vehicle deaths. In 2012, Colorado had the second-highest rate of prescription painkiller abuse in the U.S. Overdose deaths have tripled in the last 12 years.

Fortunately, Colorado is taking steps to expand access to naloxone.

In May 2013, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 14 to allow medical providers to prescribe naloxone to people who might potentially witness an overdose, including friends and family of opiate users and all providers of services to the homeless.

Prescribers can educate and train people how to recognize an overdose and how to respond it, including proper use of naloxone and accessing emergency care.

One community-based program in Denver already has reported 146 lives saved because of naloxone.

People at risk for unintentional opiate overdose include people receiving narcotic pain medication who have chronic lung, heart or kidney disease; people who have a change in their prescription dose or a change from one opioid to another; people with a history of substance abuse; anyone who receives treatment for opioid toxicity in an emergency room; and people taking opioid medications with other drugs.

Who should have a prescription for naloxone? Opiate users and their friends and family members, service providers, clinics, law-enforcement personnel and any potential observer of an overdose.

State Sen. Dr. Irene Aguilar recently introduced legislation to further expand access to this life-saving drug. The proposed law would allow for “standing orders,” meaning a physician with prescribing authority could issue a written order allowing trained health-care workers of designated overdose-prevention programs to distribute naloxone to people at risk as well as potential bystanders.

Other states, such as California and Massachusetts, already have enacted such laws with great success, distributing thousands of doses of naloxone among high-risk populations.

Remember: Always call 911 when witnessing an overdose, even if naloxone is administered.

Romany Redman is a third year medical student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She is completing her clerkship in community and rural medicine with Dr. Matthew Clark at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.

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