CONCORD, NH – There is some light in what has been a dark tunnel for those in the trenches of our statewide heroin epidemic.
On Tuesday Governor Maggie Hassan issued the following statement immediately after signing into law HB 271, known as the Narcan bill, which addresses possession and administration of the drug, an opioid antagonist that temporarily reverses the physical effect of a heroin overdose:
“The rising rate of heroin and opioid overdoses is one of the most pressing public health and safety challenges facing our state, and while we work to strengthen our prevention and treatment efforts through measures like our bipartisan health care expansion plan, we must also do everything that we can to save lives when an overdose takes place. Last year, we had more than 300 overdose deaths in New Hampshire – an unprecedented number – with the majority coming from heroin or other opioids. We have already increased the safe and effective use of Narcan by our first responders and law enforcement officials, and House Bill 271 will help us save more lives by allowing doctors to prescribe Narcan to the families and loved ones of those at risk of an overdose. I thank Representative Bouldin and legislators from both parties for their commitment to combating the rising rate of heroin and opioid overdoses, and I am glad to sign this bipartisan, life-saving measure into law.”
The bill, which is effective immediately, exempts from the provisions of the controlled drug act a health care professional or other person who prescribes, dispenses, distributes, or stores Narcan, an opioid antagonist, and those who administer it to someone suffering from a heroin overdose.
Until now, Naloxone – commonly known by its brand name, Narcan – was not available for use in New Hampshire except by specifically trained emergency personnel. It is administered as an injection or nasal spray. Narcan reverses the breathing failure that is the primary cause of death in heroin and other opioid overdoses, including OxyContin.
Many parents whose children have battled addiction have been lobbying hard for passage of this legislation, including Heidi Sanderson, of Salem.
“Now we don’t have to fear being arrested for carrying this life saving drug,” said Sanderson. Like many others who walk in her shoes as the mother of an addicted child, she knew she took the calculated risk of purchasing Narcan in Massachusetts, where it’s available to anyone by prescription, to have in case of emergency.
Janis Fiore, of Exeter, is like Sanderson, a member of the New Hampshire chapter of online support group, The Addict’s Mom (TAM).
“Putting this in more hands will save many more lives,” said Fiore, who is involved with addiction recovery efforts on the Seacoast.
That sentiment is what drew such strong bi-partisan support for the bill, says State Rep. Amanda Bouldin, D-Manchester, who was the primary sponsor of the bill – and who got a shout-out from the governor for her diligence in working with several bi-partisan co-sponsors.
“I’m so happy and grateful to see this change. I’m looking forward to the future. I hope that on Thursday the Senate takes HB 270 as seriously. We can make a lasting impact on this crisis with both of these bills,” Bouldin said.
She is also the primary sponsor of HB 270, which is on Thursday’s legislative agenda. It is known as the “Good Samaritan” bill and grants immunity from criminal prosecution to anyone who reports a drug-related emergency.
State Rep. Joseph Hannon, a Republican representing Lee and Barrington and co-sponsor of HB 271, said one of the bill’s strongest opponents actually thanked he and Bouldin for helping to change his mind about the legislation.
“This is smart legislation that will save lives, and I’m thrilled that it passed. It’s one of the biggest accomplishments for the legislature this year, because we know it will save lives – we know because it’s been documented in other places,” said Hannon.
Hannon echoed Bouldin in saying the next step is for the governor to sign HB 270.
“Now we have to educate people on what comes after Narcan, which is getting someone to the hospital. That’s why the companion ‘Good Samaritan’ bill must be signed. They go together,” Hannon said.
Hannon said once his colleagues were educated on the facts about Narcan, there was overwhelming support.
“It’s not just humane but it’s the intelligent thing to do,” said Hannon, a retired physician. “The biggest opposition I heard from opponents of the bill is that addicts ‘brought it on themselves,’ and ‘why should we care.’ People get jaded. But the antidote shouldn’t be harder to get than the poison,” said Hannon. “You can’t work on recovery unless you’re alive, and this will save lives.”
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